How the Church Fathers Interpret God’s Killing Campaign in the Old Testament

There aren’t many Orthodox commentaries on the Old Testament. The commentaries in existence are not complete commentaries; i.e. the Fathers did not interpret the books verse by verse. The Fathers have three methods of interpreting the murders committed or ordered by God in the Old Testament.

1) An allegorical method where the incidents are reduced to “spiritual metaphors.” Whether they accept the events as actual historical events or not, they are rendered as typologies of Christ and the New Testament.

2) The Fathers who accept the historical reality of events criticize those who feel God is cruel for commanding genocide and other atrocities.

3) They ignore the incidents: emphasis is placed on another aspect of the story or the story is skipped altogether.

Origen uses this “spiritual metaphor/typology” method of interpreting the Old Testament stories because: “I myself think it is better that the Israelite wars be understood in this way, and it is better that Jesus [Joshua] is thought to fight in this way and to destroy cities and overthrow kingdoms. For in this manner what is said will also appear more devout and more merciful, when he is said to have so subverted and devastated individual cities that ‘nothing that breathed was left in them, neither nay who might be saved nor any who might escape’” (Homilies on Joshua, 13.3).

A depiction of Origen's self-castration.
A depiction of Origen’s self-castration.

Church Fathers who accept the historical reality of these events, such as St. Augustine of Hippo, say, “One should not at all think it a horrible cruelty that Joshua did not leave anyone alive in those cities that fell to him, for God himself had ordered this. However, whoever for this reason thinks that God himself must be cruel and does not wish to believe then that the true God was the author of the Old Testament judges as perversely about the works of God as he does about the sins of human beings. Such people do not know what each person ought to suffer. Consequently, they think it a great evil when that which is about to fall is thrown down and when mortals die.” (Questions on Joshua 16).

st_augustine_of_hippo

One of the arguments to justify ignoring or not interpreting God’s atrocities in the Old Testament can be found in a New testament passage: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?” (Romans 11:33-35). This is called “circular reasoning.”

One can ask many contemporary monks and nuns who are considered sanctified in the Orthodox Church–or at least considered as such by their blindly obedient followers–about such things. One may receive a slew of different responses that don’t exactly answer the question of why God acted this way in the Old Testament. The following are brief examples of responses given over the years by both monks and nuns at different monasteries under Geronda Ephraim:

  • “Questions like that can lead to blasphemy. You shouldn’t focus on these things. Be more simple.”
  • “Well, if there’s nothing in the Fathers, it’s obviously not that important. If it was something important, they would have written more in depth about these things.”
  • “Knowing the answers to questions like that are not necessary for salvation. You should focus more on the positive things God did.” (Followed by a whole slew of miracles by Christ for our salvation and contemporary miracles by orthodox saints).
  • “People always focus on the concept that God is love but they forget that he is also a righteous judge. This should make us fear saddening or angering him through our disobedience lest we suffer something similar.”
  • “The Old Testament isn’t that important; it’s the New Testament you should focus on. Anything important or crucial for our salvation in the Old Testament is found in the New Testament, the Synaxarion and the Church Services. It’s very easy to become deluded reading the Old Testament. Some Elders even recommend not reading it because it can incite warfares of the flesh and blasphemy.”
  • “Many saints of old were illiterate and they didn’t become sanctified by reading and studying or satisfying vain curiosities for idle knowledge which puffs up the ego. They didn’t need the answers to such questions because they knew Jesus Christ was the true God through direct experience.”
Bishop Anthony (center). Bishop Maximos of Pittsburgh on his left, Bishop Sotirios of Canada on his right. Geronda Ephraim and Gerondissa Ephraimia (Thassos) are beside Bishop Sotirios.
Bishop Anthony (center). Bishop Maximos of Pittsburgh on his left, Bishop Sotirios of Canada on his right. Geronda Ephraim and Gerondissa Ephraimia (Thassos) are beside Bishop Sotirios.

The numerous vague answers given over the years all seem to come down to one thing: critical thinking is demonic; using reason is “Luciferian,” and this line of questioning stems from egotism. As St. John of the Ladder advises in the Ladder, the Shepherd should attempt to make intricate men simple: “I beg you, do not instruct the simpler sort in the complexities of deceitful thoughts, but rather, if possible, make complex men simple—a marvelous thing indeed!” (To the Shepherd #95).

Using biblical numbers alone, the Old Testament states God murdered 2,821,364. Many of the killings recorded do not give numbers of the death tolls. Based on populations and other Biblical trends of counting numbers, the total number of God’s murders in the Old Testament is estimated at 25,000,000.  This high number is for a 4500-5500 year time period (the LXX has an extra 1000 years in the genealogical list found in Genesis 11).

The Orthodox Church Fathers state that natural disasters are punishments from God for the peoples’ sins. The Old Testament total is a very low number compared to all the murders God has committed in the New Testament period of Grace. In the period from 1900 to the present, 115 years, God has greatly exceeded His Old Testament death toll by punishing sin through natural disasters:

[Also see Demetrios Panagopoulos’ Homilies on Earthquakes #18- & 181. Demetrios also relates a miracle from June 20, 1978. Geronda Epraim was being driven to Thessaloniki. On the way there, he ordered the driver, Ioannis, to turn around immediately. He did, and they avoided the great 6.2 earthquake that occurred that day in Thessaloniki. ( περί τών σεισμών  http://www.stanthonysmonastery.org/ccp7/index.php?app=ecom&ns=prodshow&ref=1DP01 )

COMMENTARIES OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH FATHERS

The following article contains a few excerpts from the Fathers. It is by no mean an exhaustive list.

Icon of the Fathers and Mothers of the Church who used the writings of the Theologian Origen of Alexandria.
Icon of the Fathers and Mothers of the Church who used the writings of the Theologian Origen of Alexandria.

THE FLOOD OF NOAH

St. Justin Martyr writes: Accordingly, when the prophet says, ‘I saved you in the times of Noah,’ as I have already remarked, he addresses the people who are equally faithful to God, and possess the same signs. For when Moses had the rod in his hands, he led your nation through the sea. And you believe that this was spoken to your nation only, or to the land. But the whole earth, as the Scripture says, was inundated, and the water rose in height fifteen cubits above all the mountains: so that it is evident this was not spoken to the land, but to the people who obeyed Him: for whom also He had before prepared a resting-place in Jerusalem, as was previously demonstrated by all the symbols of the deluge; I mean, that by water, faith, and wood, those who are afore-prepared, and who repent of the sins which they have committed, shall escape from the impending judgment of God. (Dialogue with Trypho, 138).

St. Ephraim writes: If they did not repent because of the signs done in those seven days, it was clear that they would not have repented in the twenty years in which there would have been no signs. Therefore God sent off, with many fewer sins, those whose lives He had shortened by twenty years… (Commentary on Genesis).

13th century CE, Ark of Noah, Byzantine Mosaic
13th century CE, Ark of Noah, Byzantine Mosaic

SODOM AND GOMORRAH

St. Augustine writes: “Sins against nature, therefore, like the sin of Sodom, are abominable and deserve punishment whenever and wherever they are committed. If all nations committed them, all alike would be held guilty of the same charge in God’s law, for our Maker did not prescribe that we should use each other in this way. In fact, the relationship that we ought to have with God is itself violated when our nature, of which He is Author, is desecrated by perverted lust…Your punishments are for sins which men commit against themselves, because, although they sin against You, they do wrong in their own souls and their malice is self-betrayed. They corrupt and pervert their own nature, which You made and for which You shaped the rules, either by making wrong use of the things which You allow, or by becoming inflamed with passion to make unnatural use of things which You do not allow” (Rom. 1:26). (Confessions, Book III, chap. 8)

Destruction of Sodom Mosaic, Monreale Cathedral.
Destruction of Sodom Mosaic, Monreale Cathedral.

LOT’S WIFE

Origen writes: But let us return to Lot, who, fleeing the destruction of Sodom with his wife and daughters after he had received the command from the angels to not look back, was proceeding to Segor. But his wife became negligent of the command; “she looked back”; she violated the imposed law; “she became a little statue of salt.” Do we think there was so much evil in this transgression, that the woman, because she looked behind her, incurred the destruction which she appeared to be fleeing by divine favor? For what great crime was it, if the concerned mind of the woman looked backward whence she was being terrified by the excessive crackling of the flames? But because “the law is spiritual” and the things which happened to the ancients “happened figuratively,” let us see if perhaps Lot, who did not look back, is not the rational understanding and the manly soul, and his wife here represents the flesh. For it is the flesh which always looks to vices, which, when the soul is proceeding to salvation, looks backward and seeks after pleasures. For concerning that the Lord also said: “No man putting his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God.” And he adds: “Remember Lot’s wife.” But the fact that “she became a little statue of salt” appears to be an open indication of her folly. For salt represents the prudence which she lacked. (Homilies on Genesis, 5.2)

http://www.academia.edu/315457/Frumkin_A._2009_How_Lots_wife_became_a_pillar_of_salt._Biblical_Archaeology_Review_35_3_38-64

LOT'S WIFE

ER FOR BEING WICKED, ONAN FOR SPILLING HIS SEED

St. Clement of Alexandria writes: “Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted” (The Instructor of Children 2:10:91:2).

St Ephraim the Syrian writes: After these things, Judah took a wife and by her begot Er, Onan, and Shelah. Er, his firstborn, took Tamar as a wife. But because he was evil before the Lord, that is, because he was wicked before the Lord, the Lord slew him. even though his brother took Tamae out of love for her, because of his hatred towards his brother, Onan did not wish to raise up offspring for his brother. When God also slew the second son because of the cruel stratagem that he contrived, it was thought that it was due to the sins of Tamar that her two husbands had died. (Homilies on Genesis, 34.2)

GOD’S 7 YEAR, WORLDWIDE FAMINE: The Fathers teach that Joseph, in providing for those suffering from the seven year famine, is a figure of Christ, who provides for all those suffering from spiritual famine. They don’t really focus on anything else.

Collecting the dead in the streets of Athens during  the Great Famine (1941–1944).
Collecting the dead in the streets of Athens during the Great Famine (1941–1944). According to Orthodox Teaching, this Famine was God’s punishment upon Greece for their iniquities.

HAIL: THE 7TH PLAGUE OF EGYPT

St. Ephraim the Syrian writes: “Hail and fire” together; neither did the hail extinguish the fire, nor did the fire melt the hail. Rather, it burst into flames in the hail as in a thicket and turned [the hail] as red as iron in the fire, blazing in the hail, and careful of the trees. The force [of the hail] “splintered the ancient trees,” but the fire [in the hail] protected the hedges, seed beds and vineyards.” (Commentary on Exodus 9.3)

GOD KILLED ALL THE FIRST-BORN EGYPTIAN CHILDREN

St. Basil the Great writes: “He that has opened a pit and dug it.” We do not find the name of “pit” (lakkos) ever assigned in the divine Scriptures in the case of something good, nor a “well” of water (phrear) in the case of something bad. That into which Joseph was thrown by his brothers is a pit (lakkos). And there is a slaughter “from the firstborn of Pharaoh unto the firstborn of the captive woman that was in the prison (lakkos).” (Exegetic Homilies 11.8) [Ps. 7:15; the Greek word for dungeon in Ex. 12:29 is lakkos].

That night, God sent the angel of death to kill the firstborn sons of the Egyptians.
That night, God sent the angel of death to kill the firstborn sons of the Egyptians.

GOD DROWNS THE EGYPTIAN ARMY

St. Clement of Rome writes: Pharoah and his army and all the leaders of Egypt, “the chariots and their riders,” were drowned in the Red Sea and perished for no other reason than that their foolish hearts were hardened, after the working of signs and wonders in the land of Egypt by God’s servant Moses (Letter to the Corinthians 51).

St. Gregoy of Nyssa writes: “Again, according to the view of the inspired Paul, the people itself, by passing through the Red Sea, proclaimed the good tidings of salvation by water. The people passed over, and the Egyptian king with his host was engulfed, and by these actions this sacrament [i.e. Baptism] was foretold. For even now, whensoever the people is in the water of regeneration, fleeing from Egypt, from the burden of sin, it is set free and saved. But the devil with his own servants (I mean, of course, the spirits of evil) is choked with grief and perishes, deeming the salvation of men to be his own misfortune.” (On the Baptism of Christ) Elsewhere, St. Gregory writes: “But after that the surface of the sea became one again, and the temporary gap was flooded over. So this remains a unique event which occurred in such a way that the marvel did not lose credibility because of the passage of time, since it continues to be testified to by visible traces. That is the way the affair of the marshy lake is both described and shown.” (The Life of Gregory the Wonderworker 7.55)

Santa Maria Maggiore, nave mosaic, Crossing of the Red Sea,
Santa Maria Maggiore, nave mosaic, Crossing of the Red Sea,

Paulus Orosius writes: The Hebrews proceeded safely over the dry passage, and the masses of stationary water collapsed behind them. The entire Egyptian multitude with their king was overwhelmed and killed, and the entire province, which had previously been tortured by plagues, became empty by this last slaughter. Even today there exists most reliable evidence of these events. For the tracks of chariots and the ruts made by the wheels are visible not only on the shore but also in the deep, as far as sight can reach. And if perchance for the moment they are disturbed either accidentally or purposely, they are immediately restored through divine providence by winds and waves to their original appearances, so that whoever is not taught to fear God by the study of revealed religion may be terrified by his anger through this example of his accomplished vengeance.” (Seven Books of History Against the Pagans 1.10)

http://www.snopes.com/religion/redsea.asp
http://www.snopes.com/religion/redsea.asp

GOD’S PERPETUAL WAR WITH AMALEK: The Church Fathers usually focus on the name Amalek meaning “a sinful people” and Moses’ raised arms as a typology of the Cross.

St. Justin Martyr writes: In truth it was not because Moses prayed that his people were victorious, but because, while the name of Jesus was at the battle front, Moses formed the sign of the cross. Who among you does not know that prayer is most pleasing to God which is uttered with lamentation and tears? But on this occasion Moses (or any after him) did not pray in such a manner; he was seated on a stone. And i have shown that even the stone is symbolical of Christ…Besides, the fact that the prophet Moses remained until the evening in the form of the cross, when his hands were held up by Aaron and Hur, happened in the likeness of this sign. For the Lord also remained upon the cross until the evening, when he was buried. Then he rose from the dead on the third day (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, 90, 97).

moses aaron hur

GOD PLAGUED THE PEOPLE BECAUSE OF AARON’S CALF

Salvian the Prebyter writes: Thus it is written: “The lord therefore struck the people for their guilt on the occasion of the calf which Aaron had made.” What greater and more manifest judgment could God have made regarding sinners than punishment immediately follow their sins? Yet, since all were guilty, why was not condemnation visited on all? Because the good Lord struck some with the swords of his sentence in order to correct others by example and to prove to all at the same time, his judgment by correcting, his love by pardoning. When he punished, he judged; when he pardoned, he loved. His judgment and love were unequal: his love was more evident than his severity. (The Governance of God 1.11.48)

Fresco of the worship of the Golden Calf, from a synagogue in Syria, 244
Fresco of the worship of the Golden Calf, from a synagogue in Syria, 244

THE JERICHO GENOCIDE: The Church Fathers focus more on the Fall of Jericho and the trumpets, as well as Rahab the prostitute, and overlook the genocide aspect. There are also many allegories made, but none of the Fathers really explain or interpret the fact that God ordered and sanctioned the genocide of an entire nation; “And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.”

Fall_ofJericho_4194

ACHAN AND HIS FAMILY ARE STONED AND BURNED TO DEATH

St. Jerome writes: Achan sinned, and the entire nation transgressed. And the Lord said to Joshua, “The children of Israel will not be able to stand before their enemies but shall flee from their adversaries, because there is a curse in the midst. And I shall no more be with you unless the anathema is destroyed out of you.” And when they made search for the guilty person and the lot discovered him hiding, Achan, and his sons and daughters, and his asses and sheep are killed; his tent and all his possessions are destroyed by fire. Granted, that he himself committed a sin. What sin did his children commit, his oxen, his asses, or his sheep? Reprehend God, why one man committed a sin and a number of people were put to death; why even he is stoned to death and all his possessions are destroyed by the avenging flame? Let us also quote the other testimony: “There was not a city,” he says, “that the Lord did not deliver to the children of Israel except the Hivites who dwell in Gibeon; they took all by fight, because it was the sentence of the Lord that their hearts should be hardened and they should fight against Israel and be killed, and that they should not deserve any clemency and should be destroyed, as the Lord commanded Moses” (Josh. 11:19-20). If it was done by the will of God that they should neither make peace with Israel nor obtain peace from Israel, let us say with the Apostle: “Why then does he find fault? For who can resist his will” (Rom. 9:13)? (Defense Against the Pelagians, 1:37).

Achan & his family stoned to death, Maciejowski Bible, 13th c
Achan & his family stoned to death, Maciejowski Bible, 13th c

St. Basil the Great writes: Accordingly I find, in taking up the Holy Scripture, that in the Old and New Testament contumacy toward God is clearly condemned, not in consideration of the number or heinousness of transgressions, but in terms of a single violation of any precept whatsoever, and, further, that the judgment of God covers all forms of disobedience. In the Old Testament, I read of the frightful end of Achar (Jos. 7.19-26) and the account of the man who gathered wood on the Sabbath day (Num. 15.32-36). Neither of these men was guilty of any other offense against God nor had they wronged a man in any way, small or great; but the one, merely for his first gathering of wood paid the inescapable penalty and did not have an opportunity to make amends, for, by the command of God, he was forthwith stoned by all his people. The other, only because he had pilfered some part of the sacrificial offerings, even though these had not yet been brought into the synagogue nor had been received by those who perform this function, was the cause not only of his own destruction but of that also of his wife and children and of his house and personal possessions besides. Moreover, the evil consequences of his sin would presently have spread like fire over his nation and this, too, although the people did not know what had occurred and had not excused the sinner unless his people, sensing the anger of God from the destruction of the men who were slain, had promptly been struck with fear, and unless Joshua, son of Nun, sprinkling himself with dust, had prostrated himself together with the ancients, and unless the culprit, discovered thus by lot, had paid the penalty mentioned above.

Perhaps someone will raise the objection that these men might plausibly be suspected of other sins for which they were overtaken by these punishments, yet the Holy Scripture made mention of these sins alone as very serious and worthy of death. (Preface on the Judgment of God)

Jericho

THE AI MASSACRE

Origen writes: You see that these things that follow truly pertain more to the truth of a mystery that that of history. For it is not so much that a piece of land is forever uninhabitable, but that the place of demons will be uninhabitable when no one will sin and sin will not rule in anyone. Then the devil and his angels will be consigned to the eternal fire with our Lord Jesus Christ sitting as ruler and judge and saying to those who overcame before and afterwards, “Come, blessed of my Father, take possession of the kingdom that was created for you by my Father.” But to the others he will say, “Go into the eternal fire that God prepared for the devil and his angels,” until he takes care of every soul with the remedies he himself knows and “all Israel may be saved.” (Homilies on Joshua, 8.5)

You will read in the Holy Scripture about the battles of the just ones, about the slaughter and carnage of murderers, and that the saints spare none of their deeply rooted enemies. If they do spare them, they are even charged with sin, just as Saul was charged because he had preserved the life of Agag king of Amalek (1 Sam. 15:9-24). You should understand the wars of the just by the method I set forth above, that these wars are waged by them against sin. But how will the just ones endure if they reserve even a little bit of sin? Therefore, this is said of them: “They did not leave behind even one who might be saved or might escape.”

Do you perhaps not believe me that the battle is joined against our sin? Then believe Paul as he says, “Not yet to the shedding of blood have you resisted against sin” (Heb. 12:4) Do you see that the fight proposed for you is against sin and that you must complete the battle even to the shedding of blood? Is it not evident that the divine Scripture indicates these things, even as it habitually says, “Sanctify war” (Joel 3:9), and, “You will fight the battle of the Lord” (1 Sam. 18:17)?

When the Jews read these things, they become cruel and thirst after human blood, thinking that even holy persons so struck those who were living in Ai that none of them was left “who might be saved or who might escape.” They do not understand that mysteries are dimly shadowed in these words and that they more truly indicate to us that we ought not to leave any of those demons deeply within, whose dwelling place is chaos and who rule in the abyss, but to destroy them all. We slay demons, but we do not annihilate their essence. For their work and endeavor is to cause persons to sin. If we sin, they have life; but if we do not sin, they are destroyed. Therefore, all holy persons kill the inhabitants of Ai; they both annihilate and do not release any of them. These are doubtless those who guard their heart with all diligence so that evil thoughts do not proceed from it, and those who heed their mouth, so that “no evil word” proceeds from it. Not to leave any who flee means this; when no evil word escapes them. (Homilies on Joshua, 8.7).

Joshua-1-692x1398

FIVE KINGS KILLED AND HUNG ON TREES

St. Jerome writes: For if the armed host of the Lord was represented by the trumpets of the priests, we may see in Jericho a type of the overthrow of the world by the preaching of the gospel. And to pass over endless details (for it is not my purpose now to unfold all the mysteries of the Old Testament), five kings who previously reigned in the land of promise and opposed the gospel army were overcome in battle with Joshua. I think it is clearly to be understood that before the Lord led his people from Egypt and circumcised them, sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch had the dominion, and that to these, as to five princes, everything was subject. And when they took refuge in the cave of the body and in a place of darkness, Jesus entered the body itself and killed them, that the source of their power might be the instrument of their death. (Against Jovinianus 1.21).

amorite kings

JOSHUA UTTERLY DESTROYS ALL THAT BREATHES AS GOD COMMANDED

Joshua Conquers Libnah

Origen writes: But if we examine the very meanings of the names more eagerly and more diligently, it will be discovered that the significance of the names can have an interpretation at one time of a wicked kingdom, and at another time, of a good kingdom. For example, I think Libnah means “whiteness.” But whiteness is understood in different ways, for there is a whiteness of leprosy and a whiteness of light. Therefore, it is possible to indicate diversities in the meaning even of the name itself, and of either condition. Thus Libnah had a certain whiteness of leprosy under the wicked kings, and, after those are destroyed and overthrown, when Libnah comes into the Israelite kingdom, it receives the whiteness of light; because whiteness is mentioned in Scriptures as being both praiseworthy and blameworthy. (Homilies on Joshua, 13.2).

Joshua Conquers Lachish

Origen writes: And again, Lachish is interpreted “way.” But in the Scriptures, a way is both a laudable and a culpable thing. That is not difficult to demonstrate, as it says in the Psalms, “And the way of the impious will perish;” and in another place, on the contrary, “Make straight the way of your feet.” Therefore it can also be understood here that the city of Lachish was at first the way of the impious, and afterwards, when it was destroyed and overthrown, it was won over to the right way with the Israelites reigning. (Homilies on Joshua, 13.2).

Joshua Conquers Hebron

Origen writes: In like manner, there is also Hebron, which they say means “union” or “marriage.” But the union of our soul was at first with a wicked man and a most evil husband, the devil. When that one was destroyed and abolished, the soul was “freed from the law” of that former wicked man and united with a good and lawful one, him about whom the apostle Paul says, “I determined to present you a chaste virgin to one man, to Christ.”

Thus even the understanding of names themselves agrees with this twofold condition of every city.

The Whole Land is Defeated

Origen writes:

I myself think it is better that the Israelite wars be understood in this way, and it is better that Jesus [Joshua] is thought to fight in this way and to destroy cities and overthrow kingdoms. For in this manner what is said will also appear more devout and more merciful, when he is said to have so subverted and devastated individual cities that “nothing that breathed was left in them, neither nay who might be saved nor any who might escape.”

Would that the Lord might thus cast out and extinguish all former evils from the souls who believe in him—even those he claims for his kingdom—and from my own soul, its own evils; so that nothing of a malicious inclination may continue to breathe in me, nothing of wrath; so that no disposition of desire for any evil may be preserved in me, and no wicked word “may remain to escape” from my mouth. For thus, purged from all former evils and under the leadership of Jesus, I can be included among the cities of the sons of Israel, concerning which it is written, “The cities of Judah will be raised up and they will dwell in them.” (Homilies on Joshua, 13.3).

Likewise, it is especially the work of the Word of God to pull down the diabolical structures that the devil has built in the human soul. For, in everyone of us, that one raised up towers of pride and walls of self-exaltation. The Word of God overthrows and undermines these, so that justly, according to the apostle, we are made, “the cultivation of God and the building of God”, “set upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself the chief cornerstone, from whom the uniting edifice grows into a temple of God in the spirit.” And thus at last we may be entitled to be included in the inheritance of the holy land, in the Israelite portion. Then our enemies will be abolished and destroyed so “that none of them remains who may breathe in us,” but only the spirit of Christ breathes in us, according to the teaching of Christ Jesus our Lord, “to whom is the strength and the power forever and ever. Amen!” (Homilies on Joshua, 13.4).

http://www.amazon.com/dp/1608998924/ref=r_soa_w_d

http://religionatthemargins.com/2010/11/the-joshua-delusion/

JABIN, JOBAB, AND ALL THE PEOPLE IN 20 CITIES

On Jabin

Origen writes: But let us attempt, as God grants, to investigate certain individual kings of the opposing army; and through the meaning of the names of each one, let us consider also the work he performs in malice.

First of all, the one who is designated the author of this war, who collects the others and summons them to a conspiracy of wickedness, is named Jabin, who was king of Hazor. For he is the one who is said to have called the others together. But Jabin means “thought” or “prudence.” What,, then, is this “thought” or “prudence,” if not that which the prophet Isaiah calls “proud thought?” For he says, “And moreover, I shall strike out the proud thought of the prince of the Assyrians who said, ‘I shall bring it to pass by my power, and by the wisdom of my perception, I shall remove the boundaries of the nations and plunder their power.’”

Therefore, the one who is called “proud thought” in that place is this king of the Assyrians. But here, Jabin is “thought” or “prudence.” For it is written that in paradise the serpent was “more prudent than all the beasts” who were upon the earth. And even that “steward of iniquity” is said to have “done prudently” that which he did. This Jabin, then, is king of Hazor. But Hazor means “court.” Therefore, all the earth is the court of this king, the devil, who holds the supremacy of the whole earth as though one court. But do you wish to verify that the court is itself the earth? In the Gospels it is written that the strong one sleeps unconcerned in his own court until a stronger one comes, who may both “bind” him and “carry away what he possesses.” The king of the court, therefore, is “the prince of this world.” (Homilies on Joshua, 14.2).

On Jobab

Origen writes: This one sends word to Jobab; for he himself is the one who sends word to all nations and summons them to battle. He sends word to the king of Merom. Jobab means “hostilities,” but Merom means “bitternesses.” Therefore, the devil sends word to another hostile power, doubtless from among the fugitive angels, and this power is the king of bitternesses. All bitternesses and difficulties in this world that are inflicted on wretched mortals issue from this author and what he does. There are diverse kinds of sin. For nothing can be more bitter than sin, even if it seems somewhat delightful at first, as Solomon writes. “But in the end,” he says, “you will find what seemed sweet in the beginning to be more bitter than gall and sharper than the edge of a sword.” But the nature of righteousness is the opposite: In the beginning, it seems more bitter, but in the end, when it produces fruits of virtue, it is found to be sweeter than honey. Therefore, the devil sent word to the hostile Jobab, the king of bitterness. (Homilies on Joshua, 14.2).

 Below are some images of various massacres and attempted genocides against Christians (primarily Eastern Orthodox) during the 20th century. One wonders if, in the spirit and tradition of the Church Fathers, they will be allocated to “allegories” and “metaphors” and “hyperbole” by future writers who deny their historical reality.

In 1915, the decaying Ottoman Empire launched a pogrom against eastern Turkey's Armenian population, falsely accusing them of supporting a Russian invasion.
In 1915, the decaying Ottoman Empire launched a pogrom against eastern Turkey’s Armenian population, falsely accusing them of supporting a Russian invasion.
Greek civilians mourn their dead relatives, Great Fire of Smyrna, 1922
Greek civilians mourn their dead relatives, Great Fire of Smyrna, 1922
Victims of Soviet NKVD in Lviv, June 1941.
Victims of Soviet NKVD in Lviv, June 1941.
Ustasha soldiers hold the head of a Serbian Orthodox man they decapitated during the Serbian genocide (1941-44)
Ustasha soldiers hold the head of a Serbian Orthodox man they decapitated during the Serbian genocide (1941-44)
Vynnytsa, Ukraine, June 1943. Mass graves dating from 1937–38 opened up and hundreds of bodies exhumed for identification by family members.
Vynnytsa, Ukraine, June 1943. Mass graves dating from 1937–38 opened up and hundreds of bodies exhumed for identification by family members.
Katyn exhumation, 1943
Katyn exhumation, 1943

 

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Christian Iconoclasm (Celsus, ca. 177)

NOTE: According to the Christian father Origen, Celsus (Κέλσος) was a 2nd-century Greek philosopher and opponent of Early Christianity. He is known for his literary work, The True Word (Λόγος Ἀληθής), which survives exclusively in Origen’s quotations from it in Contra Celsum. This work, c. 177 is the earliest known comprehensive attack on Christianity.

The Iconoclast theologian John the Grammarian and an Iconoclast bishop whitewash an image of Christ, from a 9th century Psalter.
The Iconoclast theologian John the Grammarian and an Iconoclast bishop whitewash an image of Christ, from a 9th century Psalter.

Whatever the outcome of the debate over the form of God and the importance of images, the Christians are the losers, since they worship neither a god nor even a demon, but a dead man! Moreover, why should we not worship gods? I mean, if it is accepted that all of nature-everything in the world-operates according to the will of God and that nothing works contrary to his purposes, then it must also be accepted that the angels, the demons, heroes-everything in the universe-are subject to the will of the great God who rules over all. Over each sphere there is a being charged with the task of governance and worthy to have power, at least the power allotted it for carrying out its task. This being the case, it would be appropriate for each man who worships God also to honor the being who exercises his allotted responsibilities at God’s pleasure, since that being must have been licensed to do what he does by God. Your Jesus says “It is impossible for the same man to serve many masters” (and thus makes it appear that beings exist who exercise control quite apart from the will of God; but such a being would not be the great God at all, but some lower power). The notion that one cannot serve many masters is the sort of thing one would expect of the race of Christians-an eccentric position, but one perhaps predictable of a people who have cut themselves off from the rest of civilization. In so saying, they are really attributing their own feelings to God; for in the ordinary course of affairs, a man who is serving one master cannot really serve a second, since the first might be harmed by the man’s loyalty to the second.

Anchor, fish, and Chi-Rho symbols from the Catacombs of St. Sebastian.
Anchor, fish, and Chi-Rho symbols from the Catacombs of St. Sebastian.

A man committed to one master could not pledge himself to a second, since in doing so he would be doing the one harm. It is perhaps equally reasonable, they would say, not to serve different heroes or demons at the same time. But God is not a man that he should be talked about as a “master.” Harm, necessity, and sorrow are irrelevant where God is concerned: he is unaffected by injury, grief, and need. Thus it cannot be irrational to worship several gods; and the man who does so will naturally be worshiping some gods who derive from that greatest God, and will be loved for it. A man who honors what belongs to God does not offend God, since all belongs to him.

Jesus in the Catacombs of Rome. 3rd-century fresco from the Catacomb of Callixtus of Christ as the Good Shepherd with the cock on his right.
Jesus in the Catacombs of Rome. 3rd-century fresco from the Catacomb of Callixtus of Christ as the Good Shepherd with the cock on his right.

Now, if the Christians worshiped only one God they might have reason on their side. But as a matter of fact they worship a man who appeared only recently.t97 They do not consider what they are doing a breach of monotheism; rather, they think it perfectly consistent to worship the great God and to worship his servant as God. And their worship of this Jesus is the more outrageous because they refuse to listen to any talk about God, the father of all, unless it includes some reference to Jesus: Tell them that Jesus, the author of the Christian insurrection, was not his son, and they will not listen to you. And when they call him Son of God, they are not really paying homage to God, rather, they are attempting to exalt Jesus to the heights.

The Healing of the Paralytic – the oldest known image of Jesus,[8] from the Syrian city of Dura Europos, dating from about 235
The Healing of the Paralytic – the oldest known image of Jesus,[8] from the Syrian city of Dura Europos, dating from about 235
To prove my point I quote from their own book: In one of the divine dialogues, they say the following: “‘If the Son of God is mightier and the Son of Man is his Lord (and who will overcome the mighty God?) then how can it be that so many have seen the well but have not drunk from it? Why, having come to the end of your journey are you afraid?’- ‘You are wrong, for I have courage and a sword'” Thus it is not their object to worship the almighty God, but the one whom they claim to be the father of Jesus, the cult fixture of their little society. They worship only this Son of Man, on the pretext that he is really a great god. And they say further that he is mightier than the lord of the almighty God. It was from this that they took their notion of not serving two masters, trying to ensure that [Jesus] would be preserved as the god and lord of the cult, unrivaled by any other.

Bearded Jesus between Peter and Paul, Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter, Rome. Second half of the 4th century. Such works "first present us with the fully formed image of Christ in Majesty that will so dominate Byzantine art"
Bearded Jesus between Peter and Paul, Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter, Rome. Second half of the 4th century. Such works “first present us with the fully formed image of Christ in Majesty that will so dominate Byzantine art”

The Christians abstain therefore from setting up altars and images, thinking that in doing so they are safeguarding the secrecy and obscurity of their little club. They think that in abstaining from things sacrificed to the gods they are preserving their sanctity. But to think in such a way is to cheapen the very idea of God, who belongs not to the Christians but to all men, and who-as he is perfectly good-needs no sacrifices anyway, as Plato somewhere says. Such a god is not jealous for the devotion of particular people; necessity is foreign to his nature, and the homage people pay him has to do with their zeal, not his requirements. Understood in this way, there is nothing to prevent these Christians from participating in the public festivals in the spirit of social intercourse and as a sign of their fealty to the state. If, as they maintain, the idols are nothing, then there is nothing to prevent them from public- minded duties such as the festival. On the other hand, if the idols are existent beings-demons of some sort, then they must belong to God himself, as he created all that exists; and if they occupy this position, it is a Christian’s duty to pay them homage, to believe in them, sacrifice to them, and pray to them for the general good of the people.

Incised sarcophagus slab with the Adoration of the Magi from the Catacombs of Rome, 3rd century. Plaster cast with added colour.
Incised sarcophagus slab with the Adoration of the Magi from the Catacombs of Rome, 3rd century. Plaster cast with added colour.

But let us take their general point a further step: If they get their ideas from the spiritual fathers, the Jews, in not offering homage to the gods and in abstaining from certain animals, why do they not abstain from the flesh of all animals? Pythagoras, to name but one, refused to eat animal meat on the premise that he thereby honored the soul and its functions. The Christians, however, take the view that they are abstaining from feasting with demons, and on this point I congratulate them: they acknowledge in so saying that they are always in the presence of the gods. I mean, of course, that although they avoid sacrifices they nonetheless breathe, eat, drink water and wine, and thus do not avoid the gods charged with the administration of each of these activities. So they are caught in the inconsistency of their own logic: either one ought not live at all-or else, having been born to live on this earth, we ought to give thanks to the gods who control earthly things, to render them the first-fruits and prayers, so that they will befriend us while we live. The wisest of the Greeks have said that even the human soul is allotted to gods from its birth; thus even we are to some extent under their control, and it is just as well if we do not slight them but rather do what we can to solicit their favor: The satraps or subordinate officers, not to mention the procurators who represent the Persian or Roman emperor-indeed even those who hold lesser offices-could make things very uncomfortable for anyone if they were slighted [as the Christians slight the gods]; and one should not expect the satraps and lieutenants of the earth and air to look kindly on the insults [of the new sect]. But of course they think otherwise: they assume that by pronouncing the name of their teacher they are armored against the powers of the earth and air and that their God will send armies to protect them. And they teach that no demon, lest it be an evil one, could want to do them harm anyway. And they are quite insistent on the efficacy of the name as a means of protection: pronounce it improperly, they say, and it is ineffective. Greek and Latin will not do; it must be said in a barbarian tongue to work.

Chi-Rho symbol from the first two letters of Greek Christos
Chi-Rho symbol from the first two letters of Greek Christos

Silly as they are, one finds them standing next to a statue of Zeus or Apollo or some other god, and shouting, “See here: I blaspheme it and strike it, but it is powerless against me for I am a Christian!” Does this good Christian fellow not see that I might do the same without fear of reprisal to an image of his god? And further: those who do stand next to your little god are hardly secure! You are banished from land and sea, bound and punished for your devotion to [your Christian demon] and taken away to be crucified. Where then is your God’s vengeance on his persecutors? Protection indeed!

Detail of the central shepherd from the intricately carved marble Sarcophagus of the Good Shepherd , Catacomb of Praetextatus, Rome, 390s AD
Detail of the central shepherd from the intricately carved marble Sarcophagus of the Good Shepherd , Catacomb of Praetextatus, Rome, 390s AD

You ridicule the images of the gods; I doubt you would be so brave were you to come face to face with Herakles or Dionysus himself; but that is hardly my point. I would call your attention to the well-known fact that the men who tortured your god in person suffered nothing in return; not then, nor as long as they lived. And what new developments have taken place since your story proved false-something that would encourage someone to think that this man was not a sorcerer but the son of God? What are we to think of a god so negligent that he not only permitted his son to suffer as cruel a death as this Jesus did, but who allowed the message he was sent to deliver to perish with him? A long time has passed since then, and nothing has changed. Is there any human father so ruthless as your god? You answer, “It is God’s will that things should happen as they happened.” And this is, as I have said, your answer to everything: he subjected himself to humiliation because it was his will to be humiliated. I would be negligent indeed if I did not suggest that the gods you blaspheme might say it was their will, and better sense would come of the episode if I did. Or one could say that anytime a god is blasphemed he endures it, and that endurance alone does not prove someone a god: one endures unalterable situations as much out of necessity as by choice. Who is to say necessity is not to be reckoned in the case of Jesus? When one considers these things objectively, it is evident that the old gods are rather more effective in punishing blasphemers than is the god of the Christians, and those who blaspheme the former are usually caught and punished: just how effective is the Christian god in that respect?

This fresco of Christ Among the Apostles is in an arcosolium of the Crypt of Ampliatus in the Catacombs of St. Domitilla in Rome. The Catacombs of Domitilla date from the 2nd through 4th centuries.
This fresco of Christ Among the Apostles is in an arcosolium of the Crypt of Ampliatus in the Catacombs of St. Domitilla in Rome. The Catacombs of Domitilla date from the 2nd through 4th centuries.

Certainly the Christians are not alone in claiming inspiration for the utterances they ascribe to their god through their prophets. I need hardly mention every case of prophecy that is said to have occurred among our own people-prophets and prophetesses as well, both men and women, claiming the power of oracular and inspired utterance. What of those who have claimed the power to discern truth, using victims and sacrifices of one kind and another, and those who say that they are privy to certain signs or gifts given to them by the powers that be? Life is full of such claims: Cities have been built because a prophet says, “Build it!”; Diseases and famines have been dealt within their oracles, and those who neglected their advisories have often done so at their peril. The prophets have foretold disaster with some accuracy; colonists have heeded their warnings before going to foreign parts, and have fared the better for it; not common people alone, but rulers have paid attention to what they have to say; the childless have gotten their hearts’ desire and have escaped the curse of loneliness because prophets have helped them; ailments have been healed. On the other hand, how many have insulted the temples and been caught? Some have been overcome with madness as soon as they blasphemed; others have confessed their wrongdoing; others have been moved to suicide; others have been punished with incurable diseases; some have been destroyed by a voice coming from within the shrine itself! Are these distinctive happenings unique to the Christians-and if so, how are they unique? Or are ours to be accounted myths and theirs believed? What reasons do the Christians give for the distinctiveness of their beliefs?

4th Century Roman Mosaic of Christ
4th Century Roman Mosaic of Christ

In truth there is nothing at all unusual about what the Christians believe, except that they believe it to the exclusion of more comprehensive truths about God. They believe in eternal punishment; well, so do the priests and initiates of the various religions. The Christians threaten others with this punishment, just as they are themselves threatened. To decide which of the two threats is nearer the truth is fairly simple; but when confronted with the evidence, the Christians point to the evidence of miracles and prophecies that they think bolsters their case.

4th c. painting of Christ as Alpha & Omega (Commodilla Catacomb)
4th c. painting of Christ as Alpha & Omega (Commodilla Catacomb)

There is no disguising the absurdity of the Christian view when it comes to reward and punishment, however. For on the one hand they yearn for the restoration of their earthly body (as if there were nothing better than that to salvage!) in just the same form as it appeared during a man’s life. On the other hand, they prescribe casting the bodies of all those who discredit them into hell, as if the body were of no value at all. But there is no use in dwelling on this point, especially with a group of people so thoroughly bound to flesh-and-blood concerns. Such people are commonly boorish by nature, and not a little unsmart by most applicable standards; not only so, they are usually rebellious creatures at heart. I should be glad to make my point clear to those among them, if there are such, who would profit from hearing about how a soul or mind comes to reside eternally with God (whatever they want to call this-the psyche, or an intellectual spirit, a living soul, or a super-rational and irreducible product of a divine and incorporeal nature). Perhaps it is sufficient to say that whoever leads a good life will be happy hereafter, and on this point even the Christians would have to agree. Those who are wicked will be afflicted with unhappiness eternally. This doctrine, however, is not theirs by origin: it is theirs by derivation, and it is one that neither they nor any person would wish to abandon.

Fresco of the Good Shepherd, ceiling of the Vault of Lucina in the Catacomb of Callixtus in Rome (ca. 3rd century)
Fresco of the Good Shepherd, ceiling of the Vault of Lucina in the Catacomb of Callixtus in Rome (ca. 3rd century)

Men are born in bodily form; they are bound to it; they are weighted down by the passions and needs of the world and are paying the penalty for their sins, until such time as the soul has been purified through its successive stages. As Empedocles teaches, “It [the soul] must wander about, away from the blessed, for thirty thousand years, becoming in its time every possible shape of mortal being.” The soul is guarded in the here and now by the wardens of our earthly prison. This is in the nature of our mortal existence: we are given to gatekeepers for purposes ordained by God; the gatekeepers do their duty at God’s pleasure. It makes little sense, therefore, for the Christians to heap abuse on the officers, the demons, in charge of our prison. They offer their bodies to be tortured and killed to no purpose when they think that in so doing they are defying the demons and going to their eternal reward. They have carried to an extreme a principle that we revered first: namely, that it does no one any good, in the end, to love life inordinately. But to hate life is just as wicked. The Christians do not suffer for a principle but because they break the law; they are not martyrs but robbers.

Christ as Emperor, wearing military dress, and crushing the serpent representing Satan. "I am the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6) reads the inscription. Ravenna, after 500
Christ as Emperor, wearing military dress, and crushing the serpent representing Satan. “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6) reads the inscription. Ravenna, after 500

Reason requires one of two things: If they persist in refusing to worship the various gods who preside over the day-to-day activities of life, then they should not be permitted to live until marriageable age; they should not be permitted to marry, to have children, nor to do anything else over which a god presides. If they are going to marry, have children and have a good time of it, taking the bad with the good as all men must, then they ought to pray to the beings who have made life possible for them. They should offer the appropriate sacrifices and say the proper prayers until such time as they are free of their earthly entanglements, and ingratiate themselves to the beings who control all spheres of human activity. It is at best ungrateful to use someone’s flat and pay them no rent (as Christians do the earth).

Magi bring gifts to the baby Jesus in one of the earliest known depictions. (3rd Century Sarcophagus, Vatican Museums, Italy)
Magi bring gifts to the baby Jesus in one of the earliest known depictions. (3rd Century Sarcophagus, Vatican Museums, Italy)

That life is under the control of gods one can see from the writings of the Egyptians. They say that a man’s body is under the power of thirty-six demons (or gods of some sort) who divide it among themselves, one for each part of the body. The demons are known under various names: Chnoumen, Chnachoumen, Knat, Sikat, Biou, Erou, Erebiou, Rhamanoor, Rheianoor, and all the other names that they use in their language. By invoking these names, they heal the appropriate part of the body. In any case, what is to prevent someone from paying homage to these and to the other gods, if he so chooses-so that at least one can be healthy and not ill, have good luck rather than bad, and be delivered from misfortunes of all sorts. Instead the Christians make ridiculous claims for themselves: “At the name of Jesus every knee in heaven and earth, and those under the earth, and every tongue confesses Jesus is Lord.” I am not making the case for invoking demons, however; I am merely trying to show that the Christians do the same things that the Egyptians do in memorizing the names of thirty-six different demons, only they choose to invoke but one. One must be careful about believing such things lest one become so engrossed in healing, and lapse into the superstitions associated with the magical arts, that one is turned aside from the higher things, the appropriate objects of reflection. Some skeptics say-and perhaps we should believe them-that the demon is part and parcel of the things created by God, and is riveted to blood and burnt offerings and magical enchantments, and the like. Healing and predicting the future are their sphere, but their knowledge and activity concern only mortal activities. This being so, it is well to acknowledge the demons formally only when reason dictates, and reason may not dictate our doing so in every case. It is perhaps better to think that the demons require nothing, long for nothing, demand nothing. They may be pleased with our little tokens of recognition, but what ought really to occupy our minds, day and night, is the Good: publicly and privately, in every word and deed and in the silence of reflection, we should direct ourselves toward the contemplation of the Good. So long as God is the subject of our thoughts, the little devotions we perform on behalf of the powers of this world-not the demons only but the rulers and princes who hold power at the gods’ design-are surely nothing horrible. Indeed, it is only insanity for the Christians to refuse their religious duties, rushing headlong to offend the emperor and the governors and to invite their wrath. To love the emperor and to serve God are complementary duties: if one worships God, he will not be influenced by those who command him to utter blasphemies or to whisper seditious things about the authorities. One would rather die than say or think anything profane about God: one remains firm. But on this logic, is not the Christian rejection of the gods blasphemy even against the God they profess to worship? For if we are commanded to worship the great god Helios or to speak well of Athena, we are in so doing worshiping God as well; so in singing a hymn to Mithra or to Athena, the Christians would at least not seem to be atheists, but would be seen as believers in the great God. The worship of God is only magnified in the worship of the gods.

Mosaic of Jesus as Christo Sole (Christ the Sun) in Mausoleum M in the pre-fourth-century necropolis under St Peter's Basilica in Rome
Mosaic of Jesus as Christo Sole (Christ the Sun) in Mausoleum M in the pre-fourth-century necropolis under St Peter’s Basilica in Rome

So too: If someone says to a Christian, “Here, I command you swear by the emperor,” that is nothing to be feared. You are swearing by the man to whom all earthly power has been given: what you receive in life, you receive from him. (And that is what it means to be a god.) It is not wise to disbelieve the ancient sage who said “Let there be one king: one to whom the crafty Kronos gave the power. “Overturn this axiom and you will know how swiftly punishment can be dealt! If everyone were to adopt the Christian’s attitude, moreover, there would be no rule of law: the legitimate authority would be abandoned; earthly things would return to chaos and come into the hands of the lawless and savage barbarians; and nothing further would be heard of Christian worship or of wisdom, anywhere in the world. (Indeed, even for your superstition to persist, the power of the emperor is necessary.) Or would you suggest that if the Romans could be persuaded by you and we were to give up our laws and customs and call on the name of your Most High God (whatever name you choose for him) to come and fight on our side we would no longer have need for a military defense? Would your God preserve the empire? You are fond of saying that in the old days this same Most High God made these and greater promises to those who gave heed to his commandments and worshiped him. But at the risk of appearing unkind, I ask how much good those promises have done either the Jews before you or you in your present circumstances. And would you have us put our faith in such a god? Instead of being masters of the whole world, the Jews have today no home of any kind. In your case, if anyone professes your odd beliefs, he must do so in secret, or else be hounded and finally delivered for trial and condemned to death.

Painting of Jesus and his disciples
Painting of Jesus and his disciples

You are really quite tedious in your claims: If those who now reign were persuaded by your doctrines, you argue, and these same were taken prisoner, you could persuade those who reign after them and those after and so on and so on, more and more reigning and being taken captive and the like, until there came finally a ruler who, being sensible and reading these events as representing the will and plan of God, would try wiping you out before you succeeded in bringing down the empire and him with it. Ah, that it were possible for there to be one law for the whole world-to bring Asia, Europe, Libya, Greeks and barbarians and all alike, under one roof, so to speak. But to wish for this is to wish for nothing. We are citizens of a particular empire with a particular set of laws, and it behooves the Christians at least to recognize their duties within the present context: namely, to help the emperor in his mission to provide for the common good; to cooperate with him in what is right and to fight for him if it becomes necessary, as though we were all soldiers or fellow generals. This is what a good man does: he accepts public office for the preservation of the law and of religion, if it becomes necessary for him to do so; he does not run from public duty. He does not defile the appointed laws, on the [premise that if everyone did so, it would not be possible for the law to function at all].

So much for the doctrines of the Christians. It remains for me now to compose another treatise, for the profit of those willing and able to believe what I have said here, and to teach them how to lead a good life.

Abraham

The Christian Doctrine of Resurrection (Celsus, ca. 177)

NOTE: According to the Christian father Origen, Celsus (Κέλσος) was a 2nd-century Greek philosopher and opponent of Early Christianity. He is known for his literary work, The True Word (Λόγος Ἀληθής), which survives exclusively in Origen’s quotations from it in Contra Celsum. This work, c. 177 is the earliest known comprehensive attack on Christianity.

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Those who teach the existence of another god besides the God of the Jews have no intelligent answer to give in response to my criticisms. True, they take as their defense the notion that the prophets of the Jews foretold the Christian God. But this is a very old ploy: those who offer up a new god really have none to give; and those who maintain that the prophets spoke of the God of the Jews and not about some other, better god will always come back with, “Yes, it was inevitable that things should have turned out the way they did-and why? Well, because it was predicted that they would.” It is easy for the Christians to use the books of the Jews to their advantage, since anyone can prove anything from so-called prophecy: The predictions of the Pythian priestess, or of the priestesses of Dodona, or of the Clarian Apollo, or at Branchidae, or at the shrines of Zeus, Ammon, and of countless other prophets, the Christians regard as so much babble; but the predictions of the Judaean prophets, whether they were predictions or not, since those who live around Phoenicia and Palestine are used to speaking in a certain way, are taught as the unchanging word of God-as something wholly marvelous! Of this I have first-hand knowledge, knowing the people of that region as I do, and knowing the several types of prophecy.

The Pythia seated on a tripod (from the inside of an Athenian drinking cup)
The Pythia seated on a tripod (from the inside of an Athenian drinking cup)

For example, there are countless in that region who will “prophesy” at the drop of a hat, in or out of the temples. Others go about begging and claim to be oracles of God, plying their trade in the cities or in military outposts. They make a show of being “inspired” to utter their predictions. These habitually claim to be more than prophets, and say such things as “I am God,” or “I am a son of God,” or even “I am the Holy Spirit,” and “I have come [to bring life] for the world is coming to an end as I speak. And the wicked will perish [in the fire] for their sins. I shall save you; you will yet see me, for I am corning again armed with heavenly powers. So blessed is he who worships me now. Those who refuse, whole cities and nations, will be cast into the fiery pit. Pity those who don’t know me and what is ahead for them, for they will repent in vain and cry for mercy in vain. Those who hear me and believe in me will be saved (from the fire).” This sort of thing is heard all over Judaea by these most trivial of prophets; and they go on, after parading these threats in front of an audience, to babble about the signs of the Last Days-or to speak of mysterious happenings that no sane and intelligent person would trouble himself to figure out. Their talk is complete nonsense, and for this reason is appealing to the minds of fools and sorcerers, who can take their “predictions” and do with them what they like.

The ruins of the Temple of Apollo at Didyma
The ruins of the Temple of Apollo at Didyma

Indeed, I have talked with any number of these prophets after hearing them, and questioned them closely. On careful questioning (after gaining their confidence) they admitted to me that they were nothing but frauds, and that they concocted their words to suit their audiences and deliberately made them obscure.

Now it stands to reason that when the Christians point to the Jewish prophets in order to defend their doctrine of Christ, they are on very shaky ground indeed. To prove that God would suffer all sorts of indignities is no truer just because some Christian claims it was foretold in prophecy; for God does not suffer, and God cannot be humiliated; he does not call the wicked alone to be saved. A god would not eat the flesh of sheep (at Passover); a god would not drink vinegar and gall; a god does not filthy himself as the Christians say their Christ did. Look closely at their logic: If the prophets had said that the supreme God was to be born in servitude, that he would undergo a painful death as a slave, does this mean-given that it was foretold-that God must die such a death in order that through meeting the terms of the prophecy it might be believed that he was God? At any rate, this seems to be the run of their argument. But it does a foul injustice to the prophets, who could never have predicted such a thing. It is a perfidious misreading of the oracles of the Jews. So the question of whether they did or didn’t predict the suffering and death of God does not count for anything. All that an intelligent person must ask himself is this: Do such claims do justice to the idea of God, since it is an axiom that what God does is good and that God does no act that is unworthy of his nature? This entails that what is disgraceful, mean, and unworthy should be disbelieved about God, no matter how many babbling fools say it was postulated of him. (For who are we to believe-a rabble of mistaken prophets, or the philosophers?)

Jephthat Sacrifices his Daughter (Judges 11:29-40)
Jephthat Sacrifices his Daughter (Judges 11:29-40)

It is mere impiousness, therefore, to suggest that the things that were done to Jesus were done to God. Certain things are simply as a matter of logic impossible to God, namely those things which violate the consistency of his nature: God cannot do less than what it befits God to do, what it is God’s nature to do. Even if the prophets had foretold such things about the Son of God, it would be necessary to say, according to the axiom I have cited, that the prophets were wrong, rather than to believe that God has suffered and died.

I ask the Christians to consider further the following case: If the prophets of Yahweh, God of the Jews, were in the habit of telling the Jews that Jesus was to be his son, then why did he give them their laws through Moses and promise them that they would become rich and famous and fill the earth? Why did he guarantee that they would slaughter their enemies (infants and all), and whole races of people, as Moses teaches, before their eyes? Does he not threaten to do to them what he has done to their enemies for their disobedience? Yet we are to believe that his “son,” this man from Nazareth, gives an opposing set of laws: he says that a man cannot serve God properly if he is rich and famous or powerful (or for that matter, if he is intelligent and reputable!). The Jews base their religion on God’s promise to give them a land of plenty, but the Christians say one must pay no attention to food, or to one’s larder-any more than the birds door to one’s clothing, any more than the lilies do. The Jews teach God’s vengeance on their enemies, but Jesus advises that someone who has been struck should volunteer to be hit again. Well, who is to be disbelieved-Moses or Jesus? Perhaps there is a simpler solution: perhaps when the Father sent Jesus he had forgotten the commandments he gave to Moses, and inadvertantly condemned his own laws, or perhaps sent his messenger to give notice that he had suspended what he had previously endorsed.

Icon reflecting the continuity between the Old Testament and Christianity (17th c.,St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai)
Icon reflecting the continuity between the Old Testament and Christianity (17th c.,St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai)

What do the Christians suppose happens after death? Given that they represent God as having a body like our own, it is not surprising to find them saying that we go to another earth, different and better than this one. The latter notion they derive from the ancients, who taught that there is a happy life for the blessed-variously called the Isles of the Blessed, the Elysian fields-where they are free from the evils of the world. As Homer says, “The gods will take you to the Elysian plains at the ends of the earth, and there life will be easy.” Plato, who teaches the immortality of the soul, calls the place where the souls are sent a region: “The world is enormous, and our part of it, from the Pillars of Hercules to the Phasis, is only a fraction; like so many ants or frogs around a marsh, we mortals cluster about the sea, as do people elsewhere. And in various places around the earth there are hollows of differing sizes and shapes into which water, mist, and air have coalesced. But the land of the souls is pure and lies in the ethereal regions.” Plato’s words are, to be sure, difficult; one cannot know for certain what he means when he says that because of our weakness and slowness we cannot get to the ethereal regions that lie atop the heavens, or when he says that only if we were able to bear the vision would we know true heaven and the true light when we saw it.

Elysian fields
Elysian fields

It seems that the Christians, in attempting to answer the question of how we shall know and see God, have misunderstood Plato’s doctrine of reincarnation, and believe in the absurd theory that the corporeal body will be raised and reconstituted by God, and that somehow they will actually see God with their mortal eyes and hear him with their ears and be able to touch him with their hands. Such ideas can also be found among the hero cults of Trophinus, Amphiarus and Mopsus, so where it is claimed that gods may be seen in human form. [These, however, are not the supreme God] but men who were human in form and manifested their powers openly-not coming down secretly like this fellow who deceived the Christians in one virtually unnoticed apparition.

0295 Amphiaraus-leaving-for-war

The Christians are preoccupied with the question of knowing God, and they think one cannot know God except through the senses of the body. Thus they think not as men or souls think, but as the flesh thinks. Still, I would try to teach them something, slow-witted though they are: If one shuts his eyes to the things of the senses and tries to see with his mind’s eye, and if one turns from the flesh to the inner self, the soul, there he will see God and know God. But to begin the journey, you must flee from deceivers and magicians who parade fantasies in front of you. You will be a laughingstock so long as you repeat the blasphemy that the gods of other men are idols, while you brazenly worship as God a man whose life was wretched, who is known to have died (in disgraceful circumstances), and who, so you teach, is the very model of the God we should look to as our Father. The deceit you perpetrate with your ravings about miraculous doings, lions and other animals in double form, and superhuman doorkeepers (whose names you take the trouble to memorize!) and the general madness of your beliefs, are to blame for the fact that you are marked for crucifixion. It is your rejection of true wisdom-that of inspired poets, wise men, philosophers, and the like-that [leads you to execution].

According to Orthodox Tradition, the Apostle Peter went back to Rome where he was martyred in '67 by crucifixion upside down
According to Orthodox Tradition, the Apostle Peter went back to Rome where he was martyred in ’67 by crucifixion upside down

Plato teaches us the true theology when he writes, “To find the Maker and father of this universe is difficult; but it is impossible, having found him, to proclaim him to all men.” Both prophets and philosophers have sought the way of truth; but Plato knew that most men could not follow it. The wise men who speak of such things tell us that any conception of the Nameless First Being is dependent on proper reasoning-either on knowing his manifestations in the synthesis of things, by analyzing his distinction from the material world, or by analogy. In short, to talk about God is fraught with difficulty, because it is to talk about what is indescribable; and of this I would teach you, were you able to grasp it. But seeing that you are given to talking about the flesh and what happens to it, I doubt you would understand my lesson. Still:

Being and becoming are, in turn, intelligible and visible. Truth is inherent in being; error inherent in becoming. Knowledge has to do with truth, opinion with the other; and similarly, thought is concerned with what is intelligible, and sight with what is visible. Thus the mind knows what is intelligible, and the eye what is visible. What the sun is to visible things (as being neither the eye nor the sight, but rather the cause of the eye’s vision, the existence of sight, the possibility of seeing visible things, and in turn the cause of objects’ being made accessible to the senses), so is God to intelligible things. He is not mind, intelligence, or knowledge; but he causes the mind to think, and is hence the cause of the existence of intelligence, the possibility of knowledge; he causes the existence of intel ligible things-of truth itself, of being itself-since he transcends all things and is intelligible only by a certain power which cannot itself be described.

The Wise Plato is found in the dome at the Monastery of Evangelistria in Zagorohoria and was painted in 1809.
The Wise Plato is found in the dome at the Monastery of Evangelistria in Zagorohoria and was painted in 1809.

What I have just said, I have said to those able to understand it. You Christians would be doing well to understand any portion of it. And if any divine spirit had come down to preach divine truths about God, that spirit would have preached no other lesson. It was because that spirit operated even among the ancients that they were able to provide so many valuable instructions [for our benefit]. If you are not able to grasp their lessons, then keep quiet and cover your ignorance; do not try to tell us that those who can see are blind and that those who can run are really crippled, since it is you who are blind of spirit and crippled of soul, teaching a doctrine that relates only to the body and living in the hope of raising a dead thing to life. It would have been better had you in your zest for a new teaching formed your religion around one of the men of old who died a hero’s death and was honored for it someone who at least was already the subject of a myth. You could have chosen Herakles or Asclepias, or if these were too tame, there was always Orpheus, who, as everyone knows, was good and holy and yet died a violent death. Or had he already been taken? Well, then you had Anaxarchus, a man who looked death right in the eye when being beaten and said to his persecutors after being thrown into the mortar: “Beat away; beat the pouch of Anaxarchus; for it is not him you are beating.” But I recall that some philosophers have already claimed him as their master. Well, what of Epictetus? When his master was twisting his leg he smiled and said with complete composure, “You are breaking it.” And when it was broken, he smiled and said, “I told you so.” Your God should have uttered such a saying when he was being punished. You would even get more credit if you had put forward the Sibyl (whom some among you cite any way) as a child of God. Instead, you take her oracles and twist them, inserting things to suit your purposes, including the notion that a man who lived a bad life and died a bad death was a god. You might even have chosen Jonah instead of Jesus-or Daniel, who escaped from the wild beasts, or those about whom similar fables are told.

Anaxarchus

You Christians have a saying that goes something like this: “Don’t resist a man who insults you; even if he strikes you, offer him your other cheek as well.” This is nothing new, and it’s been better said by others, especially by Plato, who ascribes the following to Socrates in the Crito:

“Then we should never do wrong?”

“Never.”

“And should we not even try to avenge a wrong if we are wronged ourselves, as most would do, on the premise that we should never do wrong?”

“So it seems.”

“So, should we do harm, Crito, or not?”

“I should say not, Socrates.”

“Well, then, is it just or unjust to repay injury with injury?”

“Unjust, I would think.”

“Because doing harm to men is no different from doing wrong?”

“Exactly so.”

“So we should never take revenge and never hurt anyone even if we have been hurt.

Death of Socrates

Thus writes Plato, and he continues:

“Be careful to see whether you agree with me and it is acceptable to you, and then let’s reason together on the assumption that it is never right to do wrong and never right to take revenge; nor is it right to give evil for evil, or in the case of one who has suffered some injury, to attempt to get even. Do you agree with my premises or not? It seems to me the truth of what I say is evident, and seems as valid today as it did yesterday.”

ANASTA O THEOS

This was Plato’s opinion, and as he says, it was not new to him but was pronounced by inspired men long before him. What I have said about it may serve, part for whole, as an example of the sorts of ideas the Christians mutilate. But unless it is assumed that this is the only case, I assure you that anyone who cares to try will find countless other instances of their perversions of the truth: They say they detest altars and images; so do the Scythians; so do the nomads of Libya; so do the Seres, who don’t believe in God at all; and so do many everywhere, who have no use for what is right. Herodotus tells us that the Persians take the same view: “The Persians,” he relates, “do not consider it legal to establish altars and images and temples; and they think people who establish them are stupid. This idea of theirs seems to come from the fact that they do not regard the gods as having a nature similar to that of human beings, as do the Greeks.” And Heracleitus confirms this when he writes, “They pray to images as if one were to have a conversation with a house, having no idea of the nature of gods and heroes.” Heracleitus, than whom none is wiser, says rather secretively that it is ridiculous to pray to images if one has no understanding of the nature of gods and heroes. Further, Heracleitus may be taken to mean that an image of stone, wood, bronze, or gold, made by a craftsman, cannot be a god, and hence the practice of praying to it is ludicrous. I mean, only a child thinks that things are gods and not images of gods. But if they mean that we should not worship images as divine because God has a different shape, as the Persians seem to think, then the Christians refute themselves: they teach, do they not, that God made man in his own image, and thus man’s form is like his own. What sense is there, then, to their refusal: if they will agree that images and votive offerings are intended for the honor of certain beings (whether they resemble these beings in form or not), why maintain that those to whom they are dedicated are not gods but demons, and then conclude that image worship is demon worship and not to be tolerated by the God-worshipers!

 100771

The Christian Doctrine of God (Celsus, ca. 177)

NOTE: According to the Christian father Origen, Celsus (Κέλσος) was a 2nd-century Greek philosopher and opponent of Early Christianity. He is known for his literary work, The True Word (Λόγος Ἀληθής), which survives exclusively in Origen’s quotations from it in Contra Celsum. This work, c. 177 is the earliest known comprehensive attack on Christianity.

Lord Sabaoth
Lord Sabaoth

The Christians say that God has hands, a mouth, and a voice; they are always proclaiming that “God said this” or “God spoke.” “The heavens declare the work of his hands,” they say. I can only comment that such a God is no god at all, for God has neither hands, mouth, nor voice, nor any characteristics of which we know. And they say that God made man in his own image, failing to realize that God is not at all like a man, nor vice versa; God resembles no form known to us. They say that God has form, namely the form of the Logos, who became flesh in Jesus Christ. But we know that God is without shape, without color. They say that God moved above the waters he created-but we know that it is contrary to the nature of God to move. Their absurd doctrines even contain reference to God walking about in the garden he created for man; and they speak of him being angry, jealous, moved to repentance, sorry, sleepy-in short, as being in every respect more a man than a God. They have not read Plato, who teaches us in the Republic that God (the Good) does not even participate in being. It is true that all things are derived from the Good, as Plato says; but it is also clear that God made nothing mortal. This God of the philosophers is himself the underivable, the unnameable; he cannot be reached by reason. Such attributes as we may postulate of him are not the attributes of human nature, and all such attributes are quite distinct from his nature. He cannot be comprehended in terms of attributes or human experience, contrary to what the Christians teach; moreover, he is outside any emotional experience.

Plato
Plato

It will be objected that this God taught by the philosophers cannot really be known: How can I know him? How can one learn the way? Who will show him to me? It may be objected that the philosopher’s God is shrouded in darkness, and that nothing can be known about him. Here, too, we have instruction from Plato, who does indeed teach that, at first, we are in darkness concerning the Good; but once led out of this darkness into the light, our perception does not take well to the brilliance of its source; rather, we think our sight is somehow damaged or incapacitated. But ask a Christian how God is known and you will get a very different answer: for them the way is not difficult, and they need not worry about the darkness any longer. For them, the darkness has been expelled by Jesus; since God is hard to know, he cast his spirit into a human body and journeyed down to earth so that we might all be able to hear and learn from him.

The God of the philosophers need not resort to such preposterous designs. Like the stoics, with whom we have a great deal in common, we say that “God” is a spirit, and like the Greeks we maintain that this spirit, so to speak, permeates all things and contains all things within itself. But the Christians say something very different: they say that the Son of God possesses a spirit derived from God, and that he was born in a human body; and thus they teach that the Son of God is not himself immortal. Or would some Christians maintain that God himself is not a spirit? Whatever they say, it is certain that there is no such thing as a spirit that survives forever; it is not of the nature of a spirit to do so. But the Christians hold the simplistic view that God had poured out his spirit (in creation) and so needed to regain it. If this is so, then it is impossible that Jesus rose bodily from the dead, for it would have been impossible for God to have received back his spirit once it had been defiled by coming into contact with human flesh. Moreover, if God wanted to send down a spirit from himself, why did he have to breathe into the womb of a woman? I mean, he already knew how to make men without such contrivance. And presumably, he could have made an appropriate body for this occasion as well, without needing to befoul himself and his spirit. Had he been truly begotten from on high (as one of their gospels teaches) there might be more reason to believe their story.

An altar to an unnamed deity that was found in Rome.
An altar to an unnamed deity that was found in Rome.

And what proof do the Christians allege that this Jesus was the Son of God? Considering his punishment, how could he be proved divine, unless, of course, it was foretold that he should suffer and die as he did? But many Christians deny that his death was foretold. These same Christians speak of two divine sons, locked in combat with one another. They fight like quails, the two sons, since their fathers are in their dotage and too tired to fight.

Hermes, messenger of the gods | Athenian red figure lekythos C5th B.C
Hermes, messenger of the gods | Athenian red figure lekythos C5th B.C

Now, as to the idea that the divine spirit was all locked up in a human body, we can assume that this body must certainly have differed from ours in size, beauty, strength, appeal, and the like. For it is plainly impossible that a body containing the essence of divinity itself would look just like anyone else’s. But do they in fact say this? No. They claim that Jesus’ body was just like the next man’s, or was little, ugly, and repugnant. Furthermore, if God (as in the portrayal of Zeus by the comic poet) woke up out of a long sleep and decided to deliver the human race from evils, one wonders why he sent this spirit of his only to some little backwater village of the Jews? Ought he not to have breathed into many bodies in the same way, the whole world over? The comic poet, to get a laugh, wrote that Zeus awoke and sent Hermes to the Athenians and Spartans. But I wonder, do you not find it a little ludicrous that the Christians take such a premise seriously: that the Son of God was sent only to the Jews.

christian-fish

Critique of Christian Doctrine (Celsus, ca. 177)

NOTE: According to the Christian father Origen, Celsus (Κέλσος) was a 2nd-century Greek philosopher and opponent of Early Christianity. He is known for his literary work, The True Word (Λόγος Ἀληθής), which survives exclusively in Origen’s quotations from it in Contra Celsum. This work, c. 177 is the earliest known comprehensive attack on Christianity.

origen-alexandria-against-celsus-paperback-cover-art

Many of the ideas of the Christians have been expressed better-and earlier-by the Greeks, who were however modest enough to refrain from saying that their ideas came from a god or a son of God. The ancients in their wisdom revealed certain truths to those able to understand: Plato, son of Ariston, points to the truth about the highest good when he says that it cannot be expressed in Words, but rather comes from familiarity-like a flash from the blue, imprinting itself upon the soul. But even if Plato were wrong-even if the highest good could be expressed in writing or in words, then would it not be equally good-indeed what could be better-to reveal this for the benefit of all men? As for Plato, he held that the good is known to a few; for when the masses get a hold of some sacred truth, or half truth, they behave arrogantly and contemptuously towards one another. But Plato, having said this, doesn’t go on to record some myth to make his point (as do so many others), nor does he silence the inquirer who questions some of the truths he professes; Plato does not ask people to stop questioning, or to accept that God is like such-and-such or has a son named so-and-so, to whom I was just talking this morning! I shall belabor my point a bit, but in doing so I hope to make myself clearer.

Plato QUote

Anyone knows that there is such a thing as true doctrine. This should be obvious to anyone who undertakes to write about such things. Everything that is, all that exists, has three things that make knowledge of it possible. The knowledge of the thing itself is generally regarded as a fourth attribute. The fifth attribute is that which is knowable and true. To put it in Plato’s language: the first is the name; the second, the word; the third, the image; the fourth, knowledge. In so defining the good, Plato does indeed stress that it cannot be described in words; but he gives ample reason for this difficulty in order to avoid putting discussion of the good beyond question and discussion. Even the nature of Nothing could be described in words.

Plato quote 2

Now Plato is not speaking in vain; he does not dissimulate or claim that he is saying something new. Plato does not claim that he descended from heaven to announce his doctrines. Rather, he tells us where his doctrines come from; there is, in short, a history to what he says, and he is happy to point to the sources of his knowledge, instead of asking us to believe that he speaks on his own authority.

Passion Week

What do the Christians say? They say, “First believe that the person who tells us these things is God’s son, even though he was arrested and humiliated, punished in the sight of all, and wandered about preaching in mean circumstances. This is all the more reason to believe!” So say the Christians. Now if these believers confess Jesus and others confess someone else, and if they all together have the slogan “Believe and be saved, or damn you,” what is to happen to those who really do want to be saved? I mean, which path are they to follow, since advice of the same sort is coming from all quarters? Are the ones who crave salvation to throw dice in order to find out where they should turn? How much should they gamble on their salvation? Whom should they follow? The Christians appeal to the worst of these salvation-hungry people by insisting that the wisdom of men is nothing but foolishness with God, and thus do they attempt to bring into their fold the uneducated and stupid. (I might mention that even on this point they are merely plagiarizing the ideas of the Greek philosophers, who long ago taught that human wisdom is one thing, divine wisdom another.) And did not Heracleitus teach that “The character of man has no common sense, but that of God has.” And, further, “A man is no more than a fool before God, as a child is before a man.” And the great Plato, in his Apology, said: “I, men of Athens, have come to have the name I have because of wisdom; and what sort of wisdom is it? It is that wisdom which a man may have, and in this way I am, I should say, wise.” It can be seen that even the Christian distinction between God’s wisdom and man’s goes back to Heracleitus and Plato. But the Christians mean something more by making this distinction. They pitch their message to the uneducated, the slaves, and the ignorant-those wholly without wisdom-and then convince them that the wisdom they possess in their newfound superstition is divine-the wisdom of God himself! This may be seen in the fact that they run away at a gallop from people of learning and culture-people whom they cannot deceive-and trap illiterate people instead.

Heracleitus

Not surprisingly, they emphasize the virtue of humility (which in their case is to make a virtue of necessity!) here again prostituting the noble ideas of Plato, who writes in the Laws: “God, who knows the beginning and middle and end of all that is, advances in a straight course according to nature; justice follows the transgressor, and he who is happy follows the divine law closely and humbly.”

Christ washing Peter's feet
Christ washing Peter’s feet

Now it is one thing to follow the divine law with humility, knowing the wisdom with which it has been ordained. Christian humility is something else again: for in Christianity the “humble” man demeans himself in a humiliating fashion, throwing himself headlong upon the ground; crawling on his knees; garbing himself like a beggar in rags; smearing himself with the dirt of the road.

Harlot Washing Jesus' Feet
Harlot Washing Jesus’ Feet

Not only do they misunderstand the words of the philosophers; they even stoop to assigning words of the philosophers to their Jesus. For example, we are told that Jesus judged the rich with the saying “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” Yet we know that Plato expressed this very idea in a purer form when he said, “It is impossible for an exceptionally good man to be exceptionally rich.” Is one utterance more inspired than the other?

Christ's Feet Anointed
Christ’s Feet Anointed

And what of their belief in a trinity of gods; is not even this central doctrine of theirs a gross misinterpretation of certain things Plato says in his letters? “All things,” writes the philosopher, “are centered on the King of the All; and the All is for his sake, and he is the cause of all that is good. The secondary things are centered in the Second, and the third things are centered in the Third. ” The human soul wants to learn about these things and to discover their true nature, by looking at things related to itself-none of which are perfect. But with respect to the king and the principles, there is nothing imperfect. It is because these Christians have completely misunderstood the words of Plato that they boast of God as above the heavens and put him higher than the heavens in which the Jews believe. But no earthly poet, and truly no Christian, has described or sung the regions of heaven as befits them: ultimate being, Plato calls it; “colorless, formless, untouchable, and visible only to the mind that guides the soul in its quest for the true knowledge that inhabits this sphere.”

Christ the King

Now the Christians pray that after their toil and strife here below they shall enter the kingdom of heaven, and they agree with the ancient systems that there are seven heavens and that the way of the soul is through the planets. That their system is based on very old teachings may be seen from similar beliefs in the old Persian mysteries associated with the cult of Mithras. In that system there is an orbit for the fixed stars, another for the planets and a diagram for the passage of the soul through the latter. They picture this as a ladder with seven gates, and at the very top an eighth gate: the first gate is lead, the second tin, the third bronze, the fourth iron, the fifth an alloy, the sixth silver, and the seventh gold. And they associate the metals with the gods as follows: the lead with Kronos, taking lead to symbolize his slowness; the second with Aphrodite, comparing the tin with her brightness and softness; the third with Zeus-the bronze symbolizing the firmness of the god; the fourth with Hermes, for both iron and Hermes are reliable and hard-working; the fifth with Ares-the gate which as a result of mixture is uneven in quality; the sixth with the moon; and the seventh with the sun-the last two being symbolized by the colors of the metals.

Mithras Slaying the Bull
Mithras Slaying the Bull

Of course, were one to lay the cosmology of the Persians alongside that of the Christians, one could see the differences between them, since I have seen a Christian drawing in which there were ten circles, separated from one another and held together by a single circle said to be the soul of the universe, called Leviathan. The diagram was divided by a thick black line which, I was told, was Gehenna or Tartarus.

Tombs in the Valley of Hinnom (Ancient Greek: Gehenna [γέεννα])
Tombs in the Valley of Hinnom (Ancient Greek: Gehenna [γέεννα])
These Christians also speak of a seal, given by the father to a young man called the Son or the Son of Man, who claims to have been anointed with a white ointment from the tree of life. The Christians teach that when a man is dying, seven angels stand alongside the soul, one group being angels of light, the remainder being what are called archontic angels, and the head of these archons is said to be the angel accursed of God. Some Christians [that is, the Gnostics] maintain that it is the god of the Jews who is the accursed angel, and that it is this god who sends thunder, who created the world and was worshipped by Moses, who describes his actions in his own story of the creation of the world. Well, such a god may well deserve to be accursed if he is the god who cursed the serpent for granting man the knowledge of good and evil!

What could be sillier than what the Christians call wisdom! The god of the Jews, their great lawgiver (say the Christians) made a mistake. Be it so: then why do you accept his laws as being worth following-why take these laws and interpret them as allegories? Why do you so grudgingly worship this Creator, you hypocrites, when he promised the Jews everything-that he would make their race prosper, that he would raise them up from the dead in their own flesh and blood-this same God who inspired the prophets? Yet you pour abuse on him! But when you Christians find things made difficult for you by the Jews, you come around and say that you worship the same God as they do! What is to be believed? For when your master, Jesus, lays down laws contrary to those laid down by Moses, in whom the Jews put their faith, you immediately undertake to find another God, one who is different from the Father.

The Prophet Moses receiving the Law of God
The Prophet Moses receiving the Law of God

Some of the Christians, like the followers of other mysteries, carry their theories to the point of absurdity, heaping the sayings of oracles on top of other sayings, all designed to confuse. And so we hear of circles on top of circles and emanations flowing out of emanations, earthly churches and churches of the circumcision; we witness the Jews flowing from a power represented as a virgin-Prunicus (Sophia)-and another living soul who was killed so that heaven could have life. Or they show the earth slain with a sword, or men slain so that others may live, and they show the evil of death being put to an end when the sin of the world is slain. They also depict in their diagrams a narrow passageway through the spheres, and gates that open of their own accord. These same Christians never tire of speaking of the “Tree of Life” and of resurrection of the flesh made possible by the tree-the symbolism being obvious if we accept their story that their master was nailed to a tree and was a carpenter by trade. I suspect that had he been thrown off a cliff or pushed into a pit or strangled-or had he been instead of a carpenter a cobbler, stonemason, or blacksmith, we would find them telling tales of a cliff of life in the heavens, or a pit of the resurrection, or a rope of immortality, or a blessed stone, or the smelter of love, or the holy hide of leather. I wonder, would not even a drunken old crone who sang such stories to a baby as lullabies be embarrassed by them?

Personification of wisdom (in Greek, "Σοφία" or "Sophia") at the Celsus Library in Ephesus, Turkey.
Personification of wisdom (in Greek, “Σοφία” or “Sophia”) at the Celsus Library in Ephesus, Turkey.

But that is not the most remarkable thing about these Christians: They interpret certain words that appear inscribed between the upper circles, above the heavens, a larger and a smaller-in particular, as the Son and the Father, and they teach their converts to read the signs and learn the interpretation of the diagrams, promising that in so doing they will become proficient in sorcery. They are really very dishonest, borrowing even their incantations from other religions in their magic acts. Their real talent is in hoodwinking people who are ignorant of the fact that the demons have different names among the Greeks, the Scythians, and so on (as Herodotus teaches us when he recounts that the Scythians call Apollo Gongosyrus, Poseidon, Thagimasada; Aphrodite, Agrimpasa; and Hestia, Tabitha. I shall not here go into their crazy displays of pretended power: it is enough to comment on the fact that countless persons have sought comfort for their sins by recourse to such religious chicanery; countless religions have promised to purge men’s souls; countless charlatans have promised to deliver the gullible from evil and disease; and yes, these Christian healers and magic-doers are able to produce noisy crashes and effects; they pretend to do miracles in Jesus’ name; they conjure by means of silks and curtains, numbers, stones, plants and the assorted paraphernalia that one expects of such people- roots and objects of all sorts.

A mystical depiction of Sophia from Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer, Altona, 1785
A mystical depiction of Sophia from Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer, Altona, 1785

Though they profess faith, I have seen these Christian priests use books containing magical formulas and the names of various demons; they surely are up to no good, but only mean to deceive good people by these tricks of theirs. I have this first hand, from an Egyptian musician by the name of Dionysus. He testifies that magical ploys are especially effective among the illiterate and among those with shady moral characters. Those who have had anything to do with philosophy, on the other hand, are above such trickery, since they are interested in examining actions and looking at their consequences.

Their utter stupidity can be illustrated in any number of ways, but especially with reference to their misreading of the divine enigmas and their insistence that there exists a being opposed to God, whom they know by the name of devil (in Hebrew, Satanas, for they refer to one and the same being by various names). But they show how utterly concocted these ideas are when they go on to say that the highest god in heaven, desiring to do such and such-say, confer some great gift on man-cannot fulfill his purpose because he is opposed and thwarted by a god who is his opposite. Does this mean that the Son of God can be beaten by a devil? Do they really mean that the Son of God is punished by the devil as some kind of lesson, as if to teach us that we should be indifferent to the punishments to be inflicted upon us? They teach even that Satan will manifest himself again and will show his works to mankind, rivaling God in his power and glory. To this they say that we should not be led astray by the works of the devil, but rather should stick close to the Christian God and believe in him alone. What blasphemy is this? Is it not patently the sort of thing one would expect to hear from a magician, a sorcerer who is out only for his own gain, and teaching that his rival magicians are working their wonders by the power of evil, while he and he alone represents the power of good? What else could we expect of these beggars?

A medieval depiction of the Devil
A medieval depiction of the Devil

Now, what is the source of their opinions? If we look to Heracleitus, we find the following: “War is a mutual thing, and justice is no more than strife: everything that exists has come to be through strife and necessity.” Pherecydes, even earlier than Heracleitus, tells of two armies set to do battle, Kronos heading one side, Ophioneus leading the opposing side. They agree after much deliberation that whichever army is driven into the ocean (Ogenus) should be the vanquished, while that which succeeds in driving the other into the pit should inherit the heavens. We find a similar myth promulgated in the stories of the Titans and the Giants and in the mysteries related by the Egyptians concerning Typhon, Horus and Osiris. Confronted with such stories, we are first to inquire of their meaning, and it is clear that the ancients were not telling tales about devils and demons. Homer writes as follows of the words spoken by Hephaestus to Hera: “Once when I was ready to defend you, he took me by the foot and threw me down from the heavenly places.” Zeus speaks to Hera as follows, “Do you remember when you were hanging on high, and I attached anvils to his legs and cast unbroken chains of gold about your arms? You were hanging in the ether of clouds. Then the gods struck-far from Olympus-but even though standing next to him, they could not free him. No, but I, seizing him, pitched him from the threshold of heaven, and he fell helplessly to earth.” Now the words of Zeus to Hera are not to be taken at face value. They refer to God’s words to matter; they point vaguely to the fact that at the beginning everything was in chaos and that God divided the world into certain sectors, put it together, and organized the whole. He cast away all the arrogant archons (putting them on earth). Thus does Pherecydes understand Homer when he says, “Beneath that land is the land of Tartarus, guarded by the daughters of Boreas, the Harpies and Thyella; and Zeus casts away any god if he becomes arrogant.” This is the meaning of the procession of the Panathenaea, when Athena’s robe is paraded; it signifies that an unmothered and undefiled goddess rules the arrogant rulers of the earth. So should myths be read.

Fragment of the Panathenaic Procession from the east frieze of the Parthenon, Acropolis, Athens
Fragment of the Panathenaic Procession from the east frieze of the Parthenon, Acropolis, Athens

But the Christian notion that the Son of God accepted the punishments inflicted upon him by a devil is merely ludicrous, especially if we are to think that this is to teach us to endure punishments quietly. In my view the Son of God had a right to punish the devil; he certainly had no reason to threaten with punishment the men he came to save, the very ones who had suffered so much from the devil’s abuse. It is even clear where they get their idea of a son of God. For in the old days men used to call this world of ours the child of God and personify it as a demigod, in as much as it originated from God. Jesus and the “child” of God are very much alike. But the ancients were speaking figuratively; the Christians think of Jesus as the very Logos of God. And their world-view is very silly-as silly, in fact, as their record of how man came to be:

The All-seeing Eye of God
The All-seeing Eye of God

They teach that man existed first in a garden planted by God, and that after a time man was thrown out of this garden, due to certain circumstances beyond his control, and was made to live in a world that in most respects was the very opposite of the garden. Now all of this is very silly indeed. Moses can only have written such things because he was stupid, and their general effect is like that of the old comedies, where we hear: “Proteus married Bellerophon, and Pegasus came from Arcadia.” In short, Moses and the prophets who put together this record had absolutely no inkling how the world came to be, and their books are absolute garbage. All that business about “Let there be light”-Are we to think that the creator of the world used light from above like a man who borrows a torch from his neighbor? Or are we to think, as do some Christians, that a demonic god made the world contrary to the will of the good god; and if so, why was the light not snuffed out from the start? I shall not here enter into questions of physics-whether the world is uncreated and indestructible or created and destructible. But we do not teach that the creator is a stranger to the world. Some among the Christians say that things were devised by a creator different from the great God who rules supreme, and that the great God restrained himself from acting, but can no longer do so; and they go on to teach that creation needs to be destroyed. Some teach that when the great God has given the spirit to the Creator he asks for it to be returned. But what sort of god is this? What god asks for something he has given to be returned to him-for to ask for something is the action of one who is in need, and God, by definition, -needs nothing. If the great God lent his spirit, was he unaware that he was lending it to an evil being? And if the good god and the creator are opposing principles, why does the good god endure with an evil god who opposes him? These Christians I would query as follows: Why does (the good god) wish to destroy the creations of the creator? Why does he impose himself as he does, by cunning and deceit? Why does he steal away those people whom the creator has cursed, and deal with mankind like a slave dealer? If they are the creator’s work, why does he teach them to escape from their master? If the creator is their father, why must they flee from home? And what right, lacking consent of the parent, does he have to steal them away from their father?  Well, what have we in the end? An impressive god indeed: one who desires nothing more than to adopt sinners as his children; one who takes to himself the creatures who stand condemned by another, the poor wretches who are (as they say of themselves) naught but dung; a god who is not capable of taking vengeance on this creator, but falls prey to him after sending out his son to do the dirty work.

Let there be light

But if these are truly the Creator’s works, how can it be that God should make what is evil? How can he repent when they become ungrateful and wicked? How can he find fault with his own handiwork, or threaten to destroy his own offspring? Where is he to banish them, out of the world that he himself has made?

Look further at the creation story credited among them, where we have read that God banishes man from the garden made specifically to contain him. Silly as that may be, sillier still is the way the world is supposed to have come about. They allot certain days to creation, before days existed. For when heaven had not been made, or the earth fixed or the sun set in the heavens, how could days exist? Isn’t it absurd to think that the greatest God pieced out his work like a bricklayer, saying “Today I shall do this, tomorrow that,” and so on, so that he did this on the third, that on the fourth, and something else on the fifth and sixth days! We are thus not surprised to find that, like a common workman, this God wears himself down and so needs a holiday after six days. Need I comment that a god who gets tired, works with his hands, and gives orders like a foreman is not acting very much like a god?

First Day of Creation (from the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle)
First Day of Creation (from the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle)

On Jews and Christians (Celsus, ca. 177)

NOTE: According to the Christian father Origen, Celsus (Κέλσος) was a 2nd-century Greek philosopher and opponent of Early Christianity. He is known for his literary work, The True Word (Λόγος Ἀληθής), which survives exclusively in Origen’s quotations from it in Contra Celsum. This work, c. 177 is the earliest known comprehensive attack on Christianity.

Woodcut carved by Johann von Armssheim (1483). Portrays a disputation between Christian and Jewish scholars
Woodcut carved by Johann von Armssheim (1483). Portrays a disputation between Christian and Jewish scholars

I now turn to exhort the Jews and Christians, but most especially the Christians: No god or son of God has come down to earth; nor would anyone deserving of the name God have come down to earth. Or do you mean not a god but some angel or demon? Or do you mean (as I assume you do) some other sort of being?

One thing about the Jews is worth noting: although they worship the heavens and the angels in it, yet they reject paying homage to its most sacred parts, namely the sun, moon, and the other stars-both fixed and mobile. They behave as though the whole could be God and yet in its Individual parts not be divine. Or else they seem to think that one ought to worship beings that descend among people who are blinded by darkness, perhaps as a result of magical arts of some kind, or people who have nightmares. But as for those beings who foretell the future so clearly-I mean the beings that tell the coming of the showers, the heat, the clouds (which they worship), the lightnings, and all the productivity of nature-the very beings in short by whom God is revealed to them, and the clearest proof of the divinity above us-these they pay no heed to at all and hold for worthless.

In Greek mythology, Tartarus is both a deity and a place in the underworld even lower than Hades
In Greek mythology, Tartarus is both a deity and a place in the underworld even lower than Hades

It is equally silly of these Christians to suppose that when their God applies the fire (like a common cook!) all the rest of mankind will be thoroughly roasted, and that they alone will escape unscorched-not just those alive at the time, mind you, but (they say) those long since dead will rise up from the earth possessing the same bodies as they did before.  I ask you: Is this not the hope of worms? For what sort of human soul is it that has any use for a rotted corpse of a body? The very fact that some Jews and even some Christians reject this teaching about rising corpses shows just how utterly repulsive it is: it is nothing less than nauseating and impossible. I mean, what sort of body is it that could return to its original nature or become the same as it was before it rotted away? And of course they have no reply for this one, and as in most cases where there is no reply they take cover by saying “Nothing is impossible with God.” A brilliant answer indeed! But the fact is, God cannot do what is shameful; and God does not do what is contrary to nature. If, in your evildoing, you were to ask God to do something terrible, God could not do it-and hence you ought not believe, as so many of them do, that every base desire is to be fulfilled for the asking. For God is not the answer to every whimsical request; he does not deal in confusion. He is the creator of what is by nature just and true and right. He may, as Heracleitus says, be able to provide everlasting life for a soul; but the same philosopher notes that “corpses should be disposed of like dung, for dung they are.” As for the body-so full of corruption and other sorts of nastiness-God could not (and would not) make it everlasting, as this is contrary to reason. For he himself is the Logos-the reason-behind everything that exists, and he is not able to do anything that violates or contradicts his own character.

Heracleitus

Now, as to the Jews: they became an individual nation and made laws according to the custom of their people. They still maintain these laws among themselves to the present day and observe certain rites and practices which, though peculiar, have a grounding in ancient tradition. They are, in this regard anyway, no different from the rest of mankind: each nation follows its customs and laws, whatever they happen to be. This situation seems to have come to pass not only because certain people decided to think in a certain way and then went about devising ways to protect their social conventions, but also because from the beginning of the world different parts of the earth were allotted to different guardians, and, its having been apportioned in this manner, things are done in such a way as pleases the guardians. For this reason it is impious to abandon the customs which have existed in each locality from the beginning.

Jewish canon law is contained in the Talmud.
Jewish canon law is contained in the Talmud.

But the Christians are not like the Jews in this regard: I ask them where they came from, or who is the author of their traditional laws. “Nobody,” they say, though it is the case that they originated from the Jews. Nor can they name any other source for their teacher and chorus-leader. Yet are they Jews? No-they rebelled against the Jews.

The Rudder (Pedalion). The "Talmud" of the Greek Orthodox Church.
The Rudder (Pedalion). The “Talmud” of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Herodotus writes as follows: “The people of the cities of Marea and Apis who live in the part of Egypt bordering on Libya, and thinking of themselves as Libyans instead of Egyptians, objected to the worship of the temples, not wishing to abstain from eating cows. So they sent to Ammon, saying that they had nothing in common with the Egyptians, as they lived outside the delta and did not agree with them. They wanted Ammon to allow them to taste all meats, but the god did not allow them to do this, saying that the land which the Nile passed over was Egypt, and that those who lived below the city of Elephantine and drank from this river were Egyptians.” Thus says Herodotus. Now I submit that Herodotus is no less equipped to give an account of the things of God than the angels of the Jews; thus there is nothing wrong if each nation observes its own laws of worship, and actually we find that the difference between the nations is quite considerable, though (naturally) each thinks its way of doing things is by far the best. To wit: the Egyptians who live at Meroe worship only Zeus and Dionysus. The Arabians worship only Ourania and Dionysus. The Egyptians all worship Osiris and Isis; the people of Sais, Athena; the Naucratites-of recent vintage-worship Serapis, and so with the rest of us according to our respective laws. Some abstain from sheep, reverencing them as sacred; others stay away from goats, others from crocodiles, still others from cows or from pigs, for they abhor being contaminated by them. Among the Scythian peoples cannibalism prospers, and some Indians consider it an act of piety to eat their fathers. To continue with what Herodotus says (quoting verbatim from him in the interest of accuracy), he tells the following story: “If someone were to call a council of all men and tell them to choose what laws are best, doubtless each after some thought—not much—would choose his own. Therefore it is not likely that anyone but a lunatic would make a mockery of these things: all men always have believed their way.” There are yet other witnesses to how much men have believed their laws were the only laws: while he ruled, Darius called the Greeks who were with him and asked how much money it would take for them to eat their dead fathers; they answered that they would not do such a thing at any price. He then called those called Calatians (Indians) who do feed on their fathers, and asked them (in the presence of the Greeks and through an interpreter) how much he would have to pay them to cremate their dead fathers rather than eat them. But they shouted aloud in a fury at the very suggestion, until he commanded them to keep silence. Such is the power of custom and law; as Pindar says, “Custom is the king of all.” Accordingly there is nothing wrong with a very ancient people like the Jews maintaining their laws; the fault is rather with those who have abandoned their own traditions in order to profess those of the Jews-those who act as though they have had some deeper revelation that entitles them to turn away from their friends and countrymen on the pretext that they have reached a higher level of piety and have heard that their doctrine of heaven is not original with them but (just for an example) was held long ago by the Persians. Their habit, writes Herodotus, is to go up to the highest peaks of the mountains to offer sacrifice to Zeus and indeed to call the whole circle of heaven Zeus. I think, therefore, that it is of little importance whether we call Zeus “The Most High” or Zen or Adonai or Sabaoth or Amoun (like the Egyptians) or Papaeus, like the Scythians. Moreover, they would certainly not be holier than other people just because they are circumcised, since others, such as the Egyptians and the Colchians, did this before them. They are not holier just because they abstain from pigs-the Egyptians did this before them as well, as also from goats, sheep, oxen, and fish. And the Pythagoreans abstain from beans and all living things. Nor is it really likely that the Jews are God’s chosen people and are loved more than other folk, or that the angels are sent only to them-as though they had been given some land set aside just for themselves. We can see what sort of land it is that God thought worthy of them! And we see what sort of people inhabit it! Well, enough about the Jews; I shall leave off, remarking only that they do not know the great God, but they have been deceived by Moses’ sorcery and have learned that without availing themselves anything at all.

Roman bust of Herodotus and fragment of the text from the 2nd Cent. CE 'Oxyrhynchus Papyrus'
Roman bust of Herodotus and fragment of the text from the 2nd Cent. CE ‘Oxyrhynchus Papyrus’

Let us turn instead to the renegades from Judaism, the Christians, those led on by the sorcery of Moses and seduced by their god, Jesus. I do not wish to discuss the silly and contradictory things they have to say about their teacher. I am willing even to assume that he really was an angel. But in that case, can we say he is the first of his kind ever to have come? Were there not others before him? If they say he is unique, then they are telling lies and contradicting themselves. For they admit that others have come, fifty or sixty at once, and were punished by being cast under the earth in chains, which they say are full of hot springs made hot by the tears of the tormented. They say as well that an angel came to the tomb of this man-some say one, some two-who replied to the women that he was risen. It seems that the Son of God was not able to move the stone, but needed an angel to do it for him. Not only that, but an angel came to the carpenter to defend Mary when she was pregnant, and another angel appeared to tell them that they must run for their lives to save the infant from danger .no It seems useless for me to provide a complete list of all those said to have appeared to Moses and others. The point is, of course, that this Jesus is hardly the only angelic being reckoned to have visited mankind; even before his time there are those who were sent by the creator, though some among the Christians- Marcion and his disciple Apelles for example-think that the creator is an inferior god. On this point there is considerable disagreement, for while some of the Christians proclaim they have the same god as do the Jews, others insist that there is another god higher than the creator-god and opposed to him. And some Christians teach that the Son came from this higher god. Still others admit of a third god-those, that is to say, who call themselves Gnostics-and still others, though calling themselves Christians, want to live according to the laws of the Jews. I could also mention those who call themselves Simonians after Simon, and those naming themselves Helenians after Helen, his consort. There are Christian sects named after Marcellina, Harpocratian Christians who trace themselves to Salome, some who follow Mariamne and others who follow Martha, and still others who call themselves Marcionites after their leader, Marcion. Pretty clearly, some put their faith in one god, others in another; but all in all they walk around in a fog, so evil and murky that it rivals the feasts of Antinous in Egypt. Thus is the extent of their evil and their ignorance. Christians, it is needless to say, utterly detest each other; they slander each other constantly with the vilest forms of abuse, and cannot come to any sort of agreement in their teaching. Each sect brands its own, fills the head of its own with deceitful nonsense, and makes perfect little pigs of those it wins over to its side. Like so many sirens they chatter away endlessly and beat their breasts: The world (they say to their shame) is crucified to me, and I to the world.

Apostle John (left) and Marcion of Sinope (right), from Morgan Library MS 748, 11th century
Apostle John (left) and Marcion of Sinope (right), from Morgan Library MS 748, 11th century

There are some few who claim to know more than the Jews. Let it be so: let us assume that even though they have no authority for their doctrine their teaching bears examining-and let us examine it. Let’s speak about their systematic corruption of the truth, their misunderstanding of some fairly simple philosophical principles-which of course they completely botch.

Critique of Christian Teaching (Celsus, ca. 177)

NOTE: According to the Christian father Origen, Celsus (Κέλσος) was a 2nd-century Greek philosopher and opponent of Early Christianity. He is known for his literary work, The True Word (Λόγος Ἀληθής), which survives exclusively in Origen’s quotations from it in Contra Celsum. This work, c. 177 is the earliest known comprehensive attack on Christianity.

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I turn now to consider the argument-made by Christians and some Jews-that some god or son of God has come down to the earth as judge of mankind. The Jews say he is still to come (a shameful idea and one really not worth refuting). Now what I should like to know is this: What is God’s purpose in undertaking such a descent from the heights? Does he want to know what is going on among men? If he doesn’t know, then he does not know everything. If he does know, why does he not simply correct men by his divine power? A fine god indeed who must pay a visit to the regions below, over which he is said to have control. Yet the Christians maintain that he is unable to correct men by divine power without sending someone who is especially adept at saving people from their sins. Furthermore, if God was unknown among men and thus thought himself to be underrated, would he want to make himself known and put those who believed in him to the test along with those who did not, like some wealthy man who has just come into some money and decides to flaunt it among his friends? It is petulance and the ambition for power that seems to determine the actions of the Christian God. Were they consistent, the Christians would argue that a god does not need to be known for his own sake, but rather wishes to give knowledge of himself for salvation-that is to say, in order to make people good and to distinguish the good from those who are bad and deserve punishment. But the Christian God is not so: he keeps his purposes to himself for ages, and watches with indifference as wickedness triumphs over good. Is it only after such a long time that God has remembered to judge the life of men? Did he not care before? They babble about God day and night in their impious and sullied way; they arouse the awe of the illiterate with their false descriptions of the punishments awaiting those who have sinned. Thus they behave like the guardians of the Bacchic mysteries, who never tire of talking about the phantoms and terrors that await those who reveal the secrets to outsiders.

Scenes of a Dionysiac Mystery Cult. Mural Frieze. 50 B.C. Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii
Scenes of a Dionysiac Mystery Cult. Mural Frieze. 50 B.C. Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii

They postulate, for example, that their messiah will return as a conqueror on the clouds, and that he will rain fire upon the earth in his battle with the princes of the air, and that the whole world, with the exception of believing Christians, will be consumed in fire. An interesting idea-and hardly an original one. The idea came from the Greeks and others-namely, that after cycles of years and because of the fortuitous conjunctions of certain stars there are conflagrations and floods, and that after the last flood, in the time of Deucalion, the cycle demands a conflagration in accordance with the alternating succession of the universe. This is responsible for the silly opinion of some Christians that God will come down and rain fire upon the earth.

Zeus, angered by the sinfulness of mankind, causes it to rain and rain, until all drown except Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha whose ark lands up on Mount Parnassus.
Zeus, angered by the sinfulness of mankind, causes it to rain and rain, until all drown except Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha whose ark lands up on Mount Parnassus.

But what kind of God is it who “comes down” to earth and brings fire along with him? As Plato has taught, God is that which is beautiful and happy and exists within himself in the most perfect of all conceivable states. This means that God is changeless. A god who comes down to men undergoes change-a change from good to bad; from beautiful to shameful; from happiness to misfortune; from what is perfect to what is wicked. Now what sort of a god would choose a change like that? Is it not rather the essence of a mortal to undergo change and remolding, and the nature of an immortal being to remain the same without alteration? Accordingly, it cannot be the case that God came down to earth, since in so doing he would have undergone an alteration of his nature.

The Wise Plato is found in the dome at the Monastery of Evangelistria in Zagorohoria and was painted in 1809.
The Wise Plato is found in the dome at the Monastery of Evangelistria in Zagorohoria and was painted in 1809.

To be blunt: Either God really does change as they suggest into a human being (and this, as noted, is an impossibility), or else he does not change, but rather makes them who see him think that he is only mortal, and so deceives them, and tells lies-which it is not the nature of a god to do. Deceit and lying are in all other cases wrong, except only when one uses them as a sort of medicine for friends who are sick and mad, in order to heal them-or in the case of enemies when one is trying to escape danger. But then, no sick or mad man is God’s friend, nor is God afraid of anyone to the extent that he should have to resort to trickery to avoid them.

http://www.theoi.com/Titan/Phaethon.html
http://www.theoi.com/Titan/Phaethon.html

The Jews say that as life is filled with all manner of evil, it is necessary for God to send someone down so that the wicked may be punished and everything purified, as it was when the first flood occurred. The Christians add other ideas to these, but the central point is the same: namely, that God is vindictive and repentant. Who can doubt that the God who destroyed the tower of Babel desired to purify the earth of disobedience, just as did the God who sent the flood? And like Phaeton of old, so does he undertake to destroy Sodom and Gommorah by fire on account of their sins. Such a god seems to delight in repenting of what he has created and-having lost control over it-in reducing it to rubble. The Christians have added to the ancient myths of destruction the idea that the Son of God has already come down to earth-because of the sins of the Jews-and that because the Jews punished Jesus and gave him gall and vinegar to drink, they brought down on their heads the full fury of God’s wrath.

Building the Tower of Babel. Duomo di Monreale.
Building the Tower of Babel. Duomo di Monreale.

As to the squabbles of the Jews and the Christians, I can only say that these sects remind me of a cluster of bats or ants escaping from a nest, a bunch of frogs holding council in a swamp, or a clutch of worms assembling in the muck: all of them disagreeing over who is the worst sinner. Thus do they say “God shows himself to us first-and he ignores the affairs of the world in order to give us, his chosen, his full attention; he sends his messengers to us alone, and never stops sending them and seeking that we may dwell with him forever.” And the wormlike Christians say, “Well, you are wrong, because in the rankings God is first and we fall next since we are made exactly in God’s image and all things have been put under us—earth, water, air, stars, and the rest-everything exists for our benefit and to serve only us. Since some remain outside the fold, God will send his son to consume the unrighteous so that we-the saved-can have eternal life with him.” So much for the message of the Jews and Christians. Would not such assertions be more forgivable corning from worms and frogs than from these sects in their petty squabbles?

This page of the Iconodule Chludov Psalter, illustrates the line "They gave me gall to eat; and when I was thirsty they gave me vinegar to drink"
This page of the Iconodule Chludov Psalter, illustrates the line “They gave me gall to eat; and when I was thirsty they gave me vinegar to drink”

And who are the Jews? They are runaway slaves who escaped from Egypt. They never did anything of importance-they have never been of any significance or prominence whatever, for nothing of their history is to be found in the Greek histories. They have tried in their holy books-shamefully I may add-to trace their genealogy back to the first offspring of sorcerers and deceivers, invoking the witness of vague and ambiguous utterances concealed in dark obscurity. And this they have put across to the uneducated and to the gullible in spite of the fact that throughout the span of history no such idea has been expressed. In days gone by other peoples have made such claims: the Athenians, the Egyptians, the Arcadians, and the Phrygians-who maintain that some of their ancestors were born of the earth, and try to prove such assertions.

Hebrews Making Mud Bricks

Of course, being cornered in the insignificant land of Palestine, we cannot expect the Jews to have heard the stories and fables sung in poetry by Hesiod and other inspired men. And so they contrived for themselves a crude and fantastic story about man being formed by God and breathed on by God, and that a woman was then formed out of the man’s right side, and that God gave them commands, and that a serpent came and proved himself superior to the wishes of God. This legend they tell the old women-as if to publicize the fact that their God is a weakling from the start-indeed, wholly unable to control even the first-made of his creatures.

The serpent tempting Eve
The serpent tempting Eve

Now it is true that the more reasonable among the Jews and Christians are ashamed of this nonsense and try their best to allegorize it, as with the stories related by Hesiod. How else are we to understand the story about creating woman from the man’s rib-which indeed in its literal form is only fit for the ears of old women. So too their fantastic story-which they take from the Jews-concerning the flood and the building of an enormous ark, and the business about the message brought back to the survivors of the flood by a dove (or was it an old crow?). This is nothing more than a debased and nonsensical version of the myth of Deucalion, a fact I am sure they would not want to come to light. As it stands, the story is really one for the hearing of small children.

Adam's Rib

To move to other fables: There is also current among the Christians a variety of stories dealing with the begetting of children long after the parents are of child-bearing age.  Their books are chock full of stories about the treacheries of mothers, God appearing on earth in various disguises, brother murdering brother, purportedly righteous men having intercourse with various women other than their wives; indeed, stories that rival in their immorality the tales of the Thyestians: brothers selling brothers, women being turned into salt-and so on. It is no wonder that the reasonable among the Christians, embarrassed as they ought to be by such stories, take refuge in allegory!-as they are, all in all, very stupid fables. On the other hand, some of the allegories I have seen are even more ridiculous than the myths themselves, since they attempt to explain the fables by means of ideas that really do not fit into the context of the stories. I myself know a story of this sort entitled “The Controversy between Papiscus and Jason”, an allegory so absurd that it does not merit my ridicule but rather my pity and contempt. I think it is unnecessary to refute this sort of stuff, as its silliness will be apparent to anyone who has the patience to read through it. Instead of ridiculing Christian tracts, I would much prefer to say something positive about the natural world and its order-to teach, for example, that there is no god worthy of the name who created mortals: whatever god there is, he must have made immortal beings, and mortal beings are their handiwork, as the Philosopher teaches.

Exodus and the Crossing of the Red Sea wall painting
Exodus and the Crossing of the Red Sea wall painting

As the soul is the work of a god, so the body is by nature different-not to be distinguished from the body of a bat, a worm, or a frog. We are all-all of us-made of the same matter; and we are all-all of us-destined for corruption, despite what the Christians teach us to the contrary. Again, it must be said that with respect to the body all animals have a single common nature; this nature passes through changes and subsists in many different forms, returning in the end to what it originally was; yet no product of matter is immortal.

I turn now to consider the existence of evi1, which is analogous to matter itself in that there can be no decrease or increase of evils in the world-neither in the past nor in the future. From the beginning of time, the beginning of the universe, there has been just so much evil, and in quantity it has remained the same. It is in the nature of the universe that this be the case, and depends on our understanding the origins of the universe itself. Certainly someone who has no learning in philosophy will be unaware of the origin of evil; but it is enough that the masses be told that evils are not caused by God; rather, that they are a part of the nature of matter and of mankind; that the period of mortal life is the same from beginning to end, and that because things happen in cycles, what is happening now-evils that is-happened before and will happen again. Yet while evil persists, the whole picture is rather different from what we see of the visible world: each thing comes into being and dies for the good of the whole—according to the processes of change of which I previously wrote. What this means theologically is that neither good nor evil can possibly increase on earth: God has no need of [what the Christians call] a new creation; God does not inflict correction on the world as if he were an unskilled laborer who is incapable of building something properly first time around; God has no need to purify what he has built by means of a flood or a conflagration (as they teach).

There is a sort of arrogance in the assumption of the Christians that evil is on the rise. Even if something seems evil to you it is far from clear whether it is really evil; one person with his limited perspective on the whole state of creation is unequipped to know whether what is good for you is good for someone else in the universe, and vice versa. When a man was angry with the Jews and killed them all, both young and old, and burned down their city, they were completely annihilated; yet (they say) when the supreme God was angry and wrathful he sent his son with threats-and suffered all kinds of indignities.  I shall have to show that their stupidity really hinges on their doctrine of creation, since they hold that God made all things for the sake of men, whereas our philosophy maintains that the world was made as much for the benefit of the irrational animals as for men—I mean, why should things have been created more for man’s nourishment than for the benefit of the plants and trees, the grass and the thorns? I suppose they ignore the fact that things do not grow without human endeavor-we struggle to make things fertile, whatever God may have to do with the case-whereas they attribute everything to God as though everything grew without sowing and tillage. As Euripides says, “Sun and light serve mortals” but they serve the ants and flies as well. For in their case, too, the night is for sleeping and the day for doing.

Euripides

The Christians, like the Jews, boast that we are the rulers and Lords of creation-because we hunt and feast on animals. I might reply by asking why rather they are not our masters, and why it cannot be said that we were made for their sake, since they also hunt and feed on us. And while they go to hunt alone, we tend to need dogs, weapons, and other men to help us against the prey! And so to those who say that man is superior to the irrational animals, I reply that God indeed gave us the ability to catch the wild beasts and to make use of them; yet it is also true that before there were cities, arts, culture, weapons, and nets-men were captured and eaten by the wild beasts, and it was rarely the other way round. And if it is said that human beings are better than the irrational animals because we live in cities and occupy prominent offices and the like-I say this proves nothing: ants and bees do as much; or at any rate, the bees elect leaders and a stratified social system of leaders, attendants, servants; they have their weapons and wage their wars, slay the vanquished, build cities and even suburbs. They share in the work of their society and punish the idlers-that is to say, in driving out the drones to fend for themselves. And the ants are no less clever, for they pick out the unripened fruit for themselves to keep it through the year-and set a place apart as a graveyard for those of their number who have died. Indeed, the very ants meet in council to plan strategy; this is why they do not lose their way. They have a fully developed intelligence-and it seems they have as well a clear-cut notion of certain universal laws, and even a voice to make the experience of their learning known to others of their kind.

Constantine burning Arian books
Constantine burning Arian books

In view of all this, I ask the Christians: If someone were to look out from heaven down upon the earth, what difference would he see between what we do and what the ants and bees do? Perhaps it will be said that human beings have learned magical arts and sorcery, and that this the animals can never have. I reply that in this regard the snakes and bees have done us one better, for it is clear that they know the antidotes to diseases and preventions for many more-including the use of stone to keep their young from harm. Let a man get hold of such secrets and he will think he has something marvelous-yet the animals know the secrets already.

Next let it be said by some unthinking Christian that it is our ability to conceive of a deity-to think about God—that sets us apart from the “lower” creatures. But I ask whether it is so-the power of divination is a case in point, and this man must learn from the birds and other animals. It would seem that there are animals of special use to prophets-call them “prophetic animals” if you will-but in any case the power of foreknowledge has been given them by God, and they in turn impart this knowledge to men. This being so, it is clear that these animals are much nearer to God-perhaps they are wiser than we and dearer to God than we. Some say that the birds have associations similar to our own secret societies and that they can read what the birds say and that having gotten information about such and such an event from the birds, things turned out just as the birds had predicted. It is said further that no animal is able to keep an oath better than an elephant, and for that reason the elephant is more faithful to God than many men are. So too, the stork is more pious than many a man, and more affectionate, as the young storks bring food to their parents. An Arabian bird, the phoenix, spends many a day seeking out the body of its father in Egypt, and will bury its father in a ball of myrrh in the shrine of the sun.

A reborn phoenix
A reborn phoenix

From all this it can be seen that all things have not been made for man-any more than for the lion, the eagle, or the dolphin-but rather all has been made by God so that the world itself may be complete and perfect in all its parts. Things have indeed been proportioned, but not for the sake of man-rather for the good of the universe as a whole. God takes care of the universe; that is to say, providence never abandons it, and it does not become more evil. The Christians are silly to say, therefore, that God turns the world back to himself after a period of neglect, nor does he become angry because man “sins” –any more than he is angry with monkeys and mice for doing what they do naturally. For each has his allotted place in the scheme of things.